Wednesday, August 10, 2022

#223 / While We Wait


Almost immediately after writing the blog posting that appeared yesterday, I ran across an article by none other than Mitt Romney. Romney is currently a United States Senator, representing Utah. He is a Republican, and he is a former presidential candidate. Maybe a future one, too, based on the article!
Romney's article was published in The Atlantic on July 4, 2022, and is titled, "America Is In Denial." It's an article worth reading. Romney's article begins with the following observations:

Even as we watch the reservoirs and lakes of the West go dry, we keep watering our lawns, soaking our golf courses, and growing water-thirsty crops.
As inflation mounts and the national debt balloons, progressive politicians vote for ever more spending.
As the ice caps melt and record temperatures make the evening news, we figure that buying a Prius and recycling the boxes from our daily Amazon deliveries will suffice.
Here is how Romney's article ends:

President Joe Biden is a genuinely good man, but he has yet been unable to break through our national malady of denial, deceit, and distrust. A return of Donald Trump would feed the sickness, probably rendering it incurable. Congress is particularly disappointing: Our elected officials put a finger in the wind more frequently than they show backbone against it. Too often, Washington demonstrates the maxim that for evil to thrive only requires good men to do nothing.
I hope for a president who can rise above the din to unite us behind the truth. Several contenders with experience and smarts stand in the wings; we intently watch to see if they also possess the requisite character and ability to bring the nation together in confronting our common reality. While we wait, leadership must come from fathers and mothers, teachers and nurses, priests and rabbis, businessmen and businesswomen, journalists and pundits. That will require us all to rise above ourselves—above our grievances and resentments—and grasp the mantle of leadership our country so badly needs (emphasis added).
As my blog posting yesterday made clear, I think that the "leadership" we are looking for will and must come from "fathers and mothers, teachers and nurses, priests and rabbis, businessmen and businesswomen, journalists and pundits" - and, in fact, from every one of us. 
If we are looking for leadership, we need to stop waiting around for some next president, whom we hope will restore our "faith." We need to look in the mirror. 
WE are the leaders we are looking for. When we are looking for someone we can trust, we should trust ourselves
That is really all we have to know. 

No need to wait!

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

#222 / Faith In The Presidency?


In a July 6, 2022 article, Time Magazine posits that Americans have lost faith in the presidency. According to the article, former president Donald J. Trump gets the major credit for that: 
The unrelenting disclosures of the Trump era and President Joe Biden’s continued slide in voters’ minds has provided a one-two punch to the country’s mindset. Today, a meager 23% of Americans have faith in the presidency, a 15-point drop from just one year ago. To find a comparable weakness, you have to go back to the hellish lurches of President George W. Bush’s 2007 crises in Iraq or the 2008 economic meltdown.
At first glance, the data suggests Biden’s performance is to blame for the loss of faith in the presidency. But dig deeper and another story emerges. The abysmal drop in Gallup’s survey is almost entirely due to a loss of faith by Republicans. This isn’t simply an example of partisan flip-flopping. Signs point to Trump having salted the ground of the Oval Office as he left it, in a way that may be unfixable.  
Let me suggest that faith in the presidency, per se, isn't, necessarily, something that we should much work to restore. As I said in an earlier blog posting, in November of last year, if we put our faith and trust in government (in all its parts) we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. We may, in fact, be undermining our ability to make government work the way it is supposed to, because we end up thinking that some official, somehow, is supposed to make everything right. 

In our system of democratic self-government, the key concept is that "self" part. When we expect our "government" to solve our problems, and to take care of us, we are almost certain to be disappointed and disillusioned. What we need, above all, is to have faith in ourselves - in our ability, together, to solve our problems, and to realize our opportunities. When we think that the president is supposed to accomplish that, and then the president doesn't accomplish that, we might lose faith in the whole enterprise of self-government. Look around. Isn't that exactly what is happening?

Last November, I quoted a Bob Dylan song to make the point that I think is most important. Dylan's message still works for me, and to make it operational, we need to get together in small groups and actively engage ourselves both individually and collectively in the challenges before us. 

Dylan's message continues to be very good advice. Click the link to hear him sing about it. Here are the lyrics to the first verse of that song, one more time: 
Trust yourself
Trust yourself to do the things that only you know best
Trust yourself
Trust yourself to do what’s right and not be second-guessed
Don’t trust me to show you beauty
When beauty may only turn to rust
If you need somebody you can trust, trust yourself

Monday, August 8, 2022

#221 / I Keep Getting Reminded Of That Metaphor

On August 2, 2022, President Joe Biden went outside on a balcony at the White House to announce that the United States of America had killed another terrorist leader, namely, Ayman al-Zawahri
The next day, The New York Times that I retrieved from my front lawn had an article that featured the picture above. In my hard copy edition of The Times, the article had the following headline: "Terrorists Lost Leaders, But Found More Fighters." Online, which you will discover if you click that link to read the article, the headline will be different. 
My hard copy edition of The Times also carried an opinion article by Asfandyar Mir, who is a senior expert at the United States Institute of Peace. Mir's column was headlined as follows (in my hard copy version of the newspaper): "Al-Zawahri Is Gone, but Al Qaeda Is Resilient."

In essence, both the opinion piece and the news article made the same, and rather telling, point. Killing terrorist leaders just creates more terrorists.
In fact, the idea that killing terrorist leaders just creates more terrorists is not some sort of new insight. What sprang to my mind immediately, as I read the morning newspaper on Wednesday, were my past blog postings on the "Morcellator Metaphor." For those who don't immediately understand what I am talking about, let me provide references to four earlier blog postings that explain how the United States' strategy of killing terrorist leaders has the same effect on the growth of terrorism that the use of Johnson & Johnson's "power morcellator" had on the growth of cancer in those women who were operated upon using the device:

Johnson & Johnson's "Morcellator" device has now been recalled. Doctors don't use it anymore. Think the United States' government might show some similar wisdom? 

That would be nice!
Image Credit:

Sunday, August 7, 2022

#220 / We Are The World


Paul Krugman is an economist. He is Distinguished Professor of Economics at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He also writes a column for The New York Times

On June 14, 2022, Krugman's column in The Times was titled, "A Dying Lake's Message About The Future." The lake in question, the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, is the Great Salt Lake, located in Utah. 
Krugman notes, in his column, that he hadn't been paying attention to what's been happening at the Great Salt Lake. He hadn't, really, focused on the fact that the lake is drying up. Krugman was alerted to what is going on at the Great Salt Lake by an article in The Times. That article, published on June 7, 2022, was titled, "As the Great Salt Lake Dries Up, Utah Faces An ‘Environmental Nuclear Bomb.’" Krugman pointed out in his column that "We’re not talking about a hypothetical event in the distant future: The lake has already lost two-thirds of its surface area."
Perhaps your reaction to this news about the Great Salt Lake is, "Who cares?" The fact that the Great Salt Lake has lost two-thirds of its surface area may well have escaped your notice, as it had escaped Paul Krugman's notice. I certainly didn't know. Given lots of other important things to think about, few will probably be thinking about the implications of what is happening. 
Krugman suggests that a "Who cares?" reaction to the drying up of the Great Salt Lake is not the right reaction. What is happening is a genuine ecological disaster, Krugman says, "salinity rising to the point where wildlife dies off, [and] occasional poisonous dust storms [are] sweeping through a metropolitan area of 2.5 million people...." To be clear, what is happening might make Salt Lake City, Utah uninhabitable. The city has a current population of 1,257, 936 people, so that would be a pretty "big deal."
Krugman's column says that his real concern is not, really, that this ecological disaster is occurring. What most distresses him is the fact that no one seems to be responding:  

What’s happening to the Great Salt Lake is pretty bad. But what [is] really scary about the report is what the lack of an effective response to the lake’s crisis says about our ability to respond to the larger, indeed existential threat of climate change. 
If you aren’t terrified by the threat posed by rising levels of greenhouse gases, you aren’t paying attention — which, sadly, many people aren’t. And those who are or should be aware of that threat but stand in the way of action for the sake of short-term profits or political expediency are, in a real sense, betraying humanity.
In other words, the drying up of the Great Salt Lake is just a relatively minor manifestation of a much greater, global problem, and we are not, somehow, appreciating what that really means. We're not doing anything effective about the crisis we confront - and the reality is that we need to do "everything" that is effective, if we wish to survive the crisis which we have created for ourselves.
As I read through Krugman's column, the words of "We Are The World" sprang into my mind. "'We Are the World' is a charity single originally recorded by the supergroup USA for Africa in 1985. It was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie and produced by Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson for the album We Are the World. With sales in excess of 20 million copies, it is the eighth-bestselling physical single of all time." 
You can click this link to read the lyrics. You can click right here, or on the YouTube video at the top of this blog posting, to hear the song sung by a contingent of popular singers that includes everyone from Michael Jackson to Bob Dylan and beyond. It's pretty inspiring! Please do listen!
There comes a time when we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one

There are people dying
Oh when it's time to lend a hand to life
The greatest gift of all
We Are  The World. 

Emphasis on the "WE." That means "You." That means "Me." All of us. Everybody. 
Krugman is right. No time to waste. 


Image Credits:
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Saturday, August 6, 2022

#219 / Coming Unstuck


Reading The New Yorker Magazine on a regular basis is an easy way to access the intellectual debates and discussions taking place in contemporary American society. The New Yorker is structured as follows: (1) A Table Of Contents; (2) A list of Contributors; (3) "The Mail" (basically what would be called "Letters to the Editor" in a newspaper); (4) "Goings On About Town," a listing of theatre, dance, music, and gallery events the magazine thinks worth noting; (5) "Tables For Two," a restaurant review; (6) "The Talk Of The Town," short commentaries on national and New York City topics, some profoundly serious and others with a comic cast; (7) The rest of the magazine, which includes articles about almost everything: movies, medicine, sports, books, personal profiles, puzzles, and cartoons - not to mention poetry and fiction.
"The Talk Of The Town" section of the August 8, 2022, edition of The New Yorker begins with a "Comment" by Bill McKibben. In the print version of the magazine, McKibben's Comment is headlined, "Highs And Lows." You can probably slip by any paywall in place and read McKibben's Comment by clicking that link. 
Here is what McKibben says about the truly extraordinary temperatures recorded in the Midlands of England in late July of this year, where monthly temperature records have been maintained since 1659 and where daily recorded temperature data has been tallied since 1772:

Until last month, the highest daily mean ever measured there was 25.2 degrees Celsius, or about 77.4 degrees Fahrenheit, in August of 2020. Then, on July 19th, as an epic heat wave swept across the British Isles, the mark was reset at 28.1 Celsius, or 82.6 Fahrenheit. If that hadn’t happened, topping the previous high by a full 5.2 degrees Fahrenheit would have seemed statistically impossible. The fact that it did happen is frightening—a sign of a world coming unstuck.
In case you have been feeling that the world might be "coming unstuck," join the crowd. We tend to feel that the world is "coming unstuck" because it is!

McKibben goes on, after the rather dire first part of his Comment, to give us some "good news" and some "bad news." McKibben says, by way of "good news," that the climate bill now pending in Congress is, taken as a whole, a "triumph." The bill is "the most ambitious climate package ever passed in the U.S., and would allow the country to resume a credible role as an environmental leader."
McKibben does note that the bill reflects the "lingering power of the fossil-fuel industry." Nonetheless, he says, "assuming that the Democrats stand together," the overall impact will be "worth it, in carbon terms," though "there's no denying that it will set a problematic example around the world."
The latest news is that the Democrats are, indeed, going to "stand together." Joe Manchin is on board, and Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema has now announced that she will support the bill, too, since Democratic leaders "agreed to drop a $14 billion tax increase on some wealthy hedge fund managers and private equity executives that she had opposed, change the structure of a 15 percent minimum tax on corporations, and include drought money to benefit Arizona."
So, that's the "good news." The "bad news" that McKibben delivers is about what is happening elsewhere in the world:

Last week, the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced that it hopes to become “the new destination for oil investments,” and scheduled an auction of oil and gas leases in its vast rain forest, including parts of the biologically diverse Virunga National Park, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas. The government also aims to allow drilling in the nation’s extensive peatlands, which are an effective storehouse for carbon; in fact, they hold as much carbon as the entire world emits in three years.
Opening the region up to drilling wouldn’t just add fuel to the fire—it would shut off a hose that fights the flames. Still, in addition to doing whatever is possible to dissuade the D.R.C. from allowing that, it’s worth viewing the announcement as a trolling of other nations, such as this one, that continue to think they have a right to expand fossil-fuel production. Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, Congo’s longtime climate representative, has been at every big global climate meeting since 2007, so he no doubt knew exactly how much controversy he’d unleash when he told a reporter from the Times last week that his country’s priority is to generate revenue to fight poverty—“not to save the planet.”
There would be a way to prevent the kind of oil company activities in the Congo that McKibben indicates are just around the corner. However, the United States government would have to apply "sanctions" to any fossil fuel company that tried to do what McKibben says they're planning to do. 
How likely is that? Given what seems like the rather significant "lingering power" of the oil companies in this country, I wouldn't bet on our ability to do what needs to be done. As McKibben observes, we're not cutting back on new oil production efforts in the United States. Until we do that, the chance that we can stop expansion elsewhere in the world is, to use McKibben's word, "problematic." 
In short, as I read McKibben's Comment, the "bad news" may outweigh the "good news." And if that's the case, the World of Nature, upon which we absolutely depend, for everything, is going to continue to "come unstuck."

Friday, August 5, 2022

#218 / Kill Or Be Killed? Or Another Choice?

Here's a film that "speaks to my condition," as the Quakers say. I was a draft resister during the Vietnam War, and I am looking forward to seeing what others have to say about their own experience. Those who live in the Santa Cruz area, or who might want to "Zoom In," are cordially invited to attend a showing of "The Boys Who Said No!" It's ninety-five minutes long.

The Santa Cruz Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (better known as the "Quakers") is going to show the film on Friday, August 12, 2022. Robert Levering, the film's Co-Producer and a Member of the Santa Cruz Friends Meeting, is scheduled to speak.
You can attend an in-person showing at 7:30 p.m. at Quaker Center, located at 1000 Hubbard Gulch Road in Ben Lomond, California. A Zoom presentation is also being offered. The Meeting is asking those who will attend in person to arrive by 7:00 p.m.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

#217 / Mitmachen


On June 29th, I advertised an upcoming session of the Hannah Arendt Virtual Reading Group, scheduled to take place on Friday, July 1st. I noted that the group would be discussing The Last Interview: And Other Conversations, a book which collects four different interviews with Hannah Arendt.
As it turned out, the Reading Group discussion on Friday, July 1st was particularly stimulating. The group focused on Interview #2, "Eichmann Was Outrageously Stupid." Arendt was interviewed by Joachim Fest, a German historian, journalist, critic and editor who was best known for his writings and public commentary on Nazi Germany. The interview took place on German television, on November 9, 1964. It was, of course, conducted in German, and the broadcast transcript was translated for the book by Andrew Brown.
In response to a suggestion by Fest that Adolf Eichmann was a "new type of criminal," Arendt agreed. "When we think of a criminal," says Arendt, "we imagine someone with criminal motives. And when you look at Eichmann, he doesn't actually have any criminal motives.... He wanted to go along with the rest." Arendt then expanded on this observation:
Going along with the rest - the kind of going along that involves lots of people acting together - produces power. So long as you're alone, you're always powerless, however strong you may be. This feeling of power that arises from acting together is absolutely not wrong in itself, it's a general human feeling. But it's not good, either. It's simply neutral. It's something that's simply a phenomenon, a general human phenomenon that needs to be described as such. In acting in this way, there's an extreme feeling of pleasure.... And I'd say that the really perverse form of acting is functioning, and in this functioning the feeling of pleasure is always there.
Roger Berkowitz, who is the Academic Director of the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College, noted that the German word that was used by Arendt, to describe the phenomenon she was discussing, is "Mitmachen." That word is generally translated as "participation," but since the German word for "power" is "Macht," Berkowitz said, it is clear that the word encapsulates, in itself, exactly the phenomenon that Arendt described. People feel both pleasure and power when they go along with a crowd. This was, in fact, one of the drivers of the totalitarian response to Hitler and the Nazis that we saw unfurl in all its consequences in Germany.

The Reading Group was not slow to suggest that our own "MAGA" phenomenon is also an example of "Mitmachen." There is great pleasure, and a feeling of power, in "going along" with a large group. Individuals set aside any critical thinking to become part of the group, to experience this pleasure and power. We know, from history, what can eventuate from the "Mitmachen" phenomenon (see the picture, above). The pictures, below, from events occurring in the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021,  can well be seen as providing another example:

Image Credits:
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Wednesday, August 3, 2022

#216 / Deep Changes Needed


The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the local newspaper in Santa Cruz, California, has opined that "Deep Changes Will Be Needed On Housing." I am quoting the hard copy version of the headline that appeared on the Sentinel's editorial statement on July 1, 2022. Online, the headline is slightly different. The entire editorial statement is appended at the bottom of today's blog posting. 
I think the Sentinel is absolutely right that "deep changes" are necessary to address our housing crisis. As the Sentinel notes, properly characterizing the dimensions of our problem: Housing in Santa Cruz County is "unaffordable for anyone not making upward of $200,000 annually." Since the Census tells us that the median annual household income in Santa Cruz County is $89,986, that means that housing (both rental and ownership housing) is unaffordable for huge numbers of local residents. The Sentinel is definitely right in describing the problem, and this is not a news flash for any current Santa Cruz County resident.

Unfortunately, having identified this huge and horrible problem, the Sentinel does not really tell us why the problem exists. In general, the newspaper blames "regulatory overkill" and "local government officials who cater to the not-in-my-backyard sentiments of constituents." Those things, to the extent they actually exist (and they may, to a minor extent), are not really what's causing the housing crisis. 
The actual "problem" is that housing prices are, with very few exceptions, set by "the market." As we all know, or as we all should know, "markets" are designed to provide scarce goods to those who have the most money, and who can thus outcompete those who have less. Housing in Santa Cruz County is a "scarce good." 
This community is one of the nicest places to live in the entire world. It is also right "over the hill" from one of California's most dynamic job-producing centers, the Silicon Valley, where millions of people live. Many workers in the Silicon Valley do earn $200,000 or more, annually, and lots of them would prefer to live in Santa Cruz, as opposed to living in Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Gilroy, or San Jose. Furthermore, housing costs in the places I just mentioned are typically greater than housing costs in Santa Cruz. Furthermore, many people think that Santa Cruz real estate is a very good investment (which it is). This fact creates another demand for Santa Cruz property. Not only do people who work in the Silicon Valley want to live in Santa Cruz, and so create demand for Santa Cruz housing that way, they also want to purchase property here as an investment, increasing demand for housing in Santa Cruz even more. And, of course, it is also true that those who want to invest in Santa Cruz property may well come from anywhere - even from other countries.

The "demand" for housing in Santa Cruz, in other words, is pretty much unlimited, practically speaking. What about the "supply?" Could Santa Cruz County actually supply enough housing to bring down local prices (and especially to bring them down to the place where someone with an annual income of $89,900 could afford to buy or rent)?

The answer to that question is pretty easy: NO.
In other words, expecting the "private market" to solve the housing crisis by building enough housing to lower the price here to something "affordable" is, essentially, to expect the impossible.

"Reality" is sometimes hard to contemplate, but we do need to be realistic. The private market will never produce affordable housing in Santa Cruz County - even if we reverse our past decision to preserve and protect prime farmland and environmentally sensitive areas - even if the City starts allowing developers to build twenty-story towers, and the City stops caring about the neighborhood impacts of big, high-density developments. There also isn't enough infrastructure to handle the traffic that would be generated by massive new housing developments. And there isn't enough water, either. Neighborhood concerns aren't just based on selfishness (in fact, I think that's the exception, not the rule). New development does have adverse impacts, and it's not fair to existing residents to ignore those.
So, we do need "deep changes" to address the housing crisis, but let's start getting realistic about just how "deep" those deep changes need to be. The private market can't and won't produce housing that ordinary working families can afford. That means that we need public financing to produce affordable housing, because "affordable" housing means housing where the price is not set by the "market," but where prices are fixed at amounts that permit the housing to be affordable. That requires governmental action. 

How can that be accomplished? Well, there is money in our state and national economy that could be used to build housing, but the government would have to obtain that money from those who have it now. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders calls them the "billionaire class." The Occupy Movement called them the 1%. 
"Deep changes" really are needed. If California and the nation are not willing to mobilize public funding to produce price-fixed housing with the prices set at a level that ordinary working families can afford, then the picture below shows where those who can't afford market price housing (rental and ownership) are going to end up. It's already happening. If we don't make the deep changes needed, at the state and national level, it is only going to happen more: 


As We See It
Second of two parts on housing affordability:
By now, the reasons for California’s and Santa Cruz County’s chronic housing shortage are evident. Factors include high costs, regulatory overkill and resistance from local government officials who cater to the not-in-my-backyard sentiments of constituents.

Not only do prices that make housing unaffordable for anyone not making upward of $200,000 annually, but the recent spike in interest rates, which have sparked some owners lowering asking prices, probably won’t mean housing will get much cheaper, real estate analysts say – not with supply so low and demand so high.

It remains a seller’s market. The state says 180,000 new housing units are needed each year to begin to close the supply and demand inequality that continues to drive prices out of reach for the majority of residents. The median home value for the entire state is almost $900,000, the highest in the United States, according to the state Department of Finance (and more than $1.5 million for much of Santa Cruz County) – a more than 250% increase from a decade ago. In roughly that same period, the median household income in the state has risen just 28%, from $61,400 to $78,700.

Renters aren’t faring any better. The national real estate site Zillow also expects rent prices in the region to rise as rental demand continues to increase. Our Bay Area News Group recently reported that at $3,295, typical rents in the San Jose area rose more than 12% from the previous year.

The dismal reality is that California has the nation’s second lowest level of homeownership. Just 56% of California’s families live in homes they own, barely higher than New York’s 55% rate and nearly 10 percentage points behind the 65% national rate. That figure is even lower for Black Californians, at 37%, and Latinos, at 44%, statewide.

“Homeownership has long been a central feature of the American dream,” a recent Public Policy Institute of California report stated. “It is the leading source of wealth for most families, and over the long run provides families with more stable and lower housing costs compared to renting. Yet … homeownership is out of the reach of many Californians.”

This is one of those crises where government has to be a solution. One way is to enforce regional housing goals. All cities and counties need to contribute their fair share to meeting housing needs but many communities have worked around requirements for new housing units mandated under the state’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation goals. These requirements can seem overwhelming for communities such as Santa Cruz, where the city was tasked with developing a minimum of 747 new housing units by the end of 2023. And according to according to the AMBAG draft RHNA plan, the state may expect as many as 3,400 new housing units from the city by 2031.
Then there’s the new California Dream for All program, where the state plans to allocate $1 billion a year for 10 years to provide down-payment loans to first-time buyers.

Under this program, concurrent with a buyer’s main mortgage, the state offers a second mortgage that covers 17-20% of the home’s price. Buyers would make no payments on this loan until they sell. The idea is to cover the down payment, which means buyers don’t have to save as much up front; it also means their main mortgage is lower, which reduces monthly payments.

While this program has good intentions, it would help only an estimated 7,700 families in a state where about 7 million families are renters. Program sponsors also recognize that pumping money into the system could just drive prices even higher. Others worry that government intervention in home ownership led to the 2008 foreclosure crisis when people were enticed to buy homes they couldn’t afford.

The ultimate solutions will take much deeper changes: Removing local impediments to housing construction, getting more housing near jobs and transportation, creating policies that lead to more middle-income jobs and improving educational outcomes for poor children in a state where more than a third of the state’s nearly 40 million residents live with financial distress.
Image Credits:
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(2) - Gary A. Patton, personal photo

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

#215 / Civic Discourse


Caitlin Johnstone, that "rogue journalist" I have mentioned from time to time, published an online article on July 1, 2022. In her article, Johnstone asserted that "Ukraine Is The Most Aggressively Trolled War Of All Time." Her pronouncements on this topic were classified as one of her "Notes From The Edge Of The Narrative Matrix." Some, but not all, of Johnstone's statements bear this identifier. 

In her July 1, 2022, posting, Johnstone said the following: 

The Ukraine war is the single most aggressively trolled issue I’ve ever witnessed. As soon as it started, Twitter was full of brand new accounts swarming anyone who uttered wrongthink about Ukraine, and now there are entire extremely coordinated troll factions working to scare people away from criticizing empire narratives about this war. It’s plainly very inorganic, so it’s good to recall what we know about the trolling operations of western militaries.
In essence, in making this comment, Johnstone is accepting Twitter as a main arena of public discourse - an arena being manipulated by the United States government, in her telling. 

In my opinion, Twitter is not only an unreliable and polluted source of information about the war in Ukraine, it is generally unreliable. So, for that matter (in my opinion) are other online platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, and the like.
Our concept of democracy and self-government depends on the idea that we can debate and discuss among ourselves what is good, and bad, and what is the "right" thing to do, and what would not be right. Out of our discussion and debate come the decisions that lead to the actions that will determine our future. 
This model works, I think, because it recognizes that we are both individuals and part of a greater reality - we are "together in this life." Although we are "together," we are individually different, with different values, perceptions, and opinions, and we need to try to decide what we will do, collectively. The process is discussed and illuminated, in all of its philosophical and political implications, in the works of Hannah Arendt. I recommend, particularly, On Revolution.
The process of democratic discussion and debate that we have relied upon to help us make collective decisions was designed and functions best in an "analog" world - a world of face to face communication. 
We have been moving, during about the last twenty years or so, to a conception of a world that is at least one remove from the analog "reality" that we actually inhabit - and make no mistake, we actually and ultimately do live in an "analog" world, the Natural World, sometimeas called the world that "God made." Our efforts to substitute our own creation - most recently promoted as a "Metaverse" - is a project that must inevitably fail. Our human world looms large in our own perception - and in the reality of its creation - but everything that we create in our Human World is ultimately dependent on the World of Nature that we did not create ourselves.
In other words, as Johnstone's critique of recent Twitter discussions illustrates, we need to find a way to debate and discuss important issues, and to engage in civic discourse, utilizing sources of information that are not easily manipulable, and that provide the equivalent to an "analogue" discussion and debate. 

The way to get there, I think, is going to be by living, most immediately, in an "analogue universe," which means small groups of real people, whom we can see and touch in "real life." Trying to do our most important debating and discussing "online" is going to lead to the kind of manipulations and misunderstandings that Johnstone has so properly identified!
Image Credit:

Monday, August 1, 2022

#214 / Thoughts Related To Golf


On July 29, 2022, the first page of the Sports section of The New York Times was all about golf. Or, maybe, all about politics and money. The entire page was filled by three separate stories, all related to a LIV Golf event held at former president Trump's golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey. One story was headlined "Watching Trump Play Golf." That is the online version of the headline. In the hard copy version, the headline read a bit differently: "The Host Plays by His Own Rules, or None at All." 

Another article was headlined, "Trump Criticizes PGA Tour and Praises Saudis for Backing LIV Golf." Again, that's the online headline. The hard copy headline was a bit more controversial: "Praise for the Saudis, Criticism for the PGA Tour and Skepticism Over 9/11."

Finally, The Times ran a third article, filling out that Sports section first page: "Hey, LIV Golf. Charles Barkley Is Waiting for Your Call." To be consistent, I have given you the online version of that headline. As I read the article in the hard copy version of The Times that was delivered to my door, the headline was a bit more specific about Charles Barkley's active interest in being hired to provide commentary for LIV Golf: "Barkley Lobbies for a Piece of the Action." 

I have a certain history with golf. My parents, in many ways, centered their life around golf. Before they married, my parents went on golf dates. I found out about that only relatively recently, when I read some of my dad's love letters, which I think can now be found online on the family website maintained by my sister. 
During most of the time I was growing up in Palo Alto, California, my parents were members of the Los Altos Golf and Country Club. I took golf lessons there, and spent a lot of time on the premises. Later, when the family moved to Santa Cruz, my parents had a membership at the Pasatiempo Golf Club. My mother was a notable in the "Neuf Trous" (nine holes) women's golf group. Later, my parents moved to Rancho Mirage, to live right on a golf course. I think that was at the Rancho Las Palmas Country Club. Later, after my parents returned to Santa Cruz County, their last residence was at the Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club, where they again had a home right on the golf course. Other family members have also made golf a significant part of their lives - most notably my brother. My grandson is a golfer, and surprisingly (to me), my daughter has recently decided to take up the sport. 

How about me? Well, I am definitely not a golfer. Back in the days when I emphasized what I couldn't do, instead of what I could do (maybe I'll tell the story of how and when that changed, in some later blog posting), I entered a "young person's/new golfers" golf tournament at the Los Altos Golf and Country Club. I fancied myself pretty good. I had taken lessons, as revealed above, and had played a lot of golf with my parents. In fact, I think, I actually was pretty good; however, on my very first shot in the tournament, my initial tee-off, I completely whiffed. I completed the round (I don't remember the results), and after that day I never picked up a golf club again. 

I could tell a similar story about skiing!


While I am ashamed of myself for having been a quitter - with respect to both golf and skiing - I believe that I long ago overcame that "quitting" instinct, and I really don't regret the fact that I am not a golfer today. 
That Sports section in The Times, on July 29th, reinforces my impression that golf is often way more about money than about "sport." That clearly comes through in those three stories I have listed. LIV Golf, sponsored by the Saudi Wealth Management Fund, which is overseen by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, seems to be about how golf professionals might make more money. Charles Barkley, currently a basketball commentator - that being a sport where "teamwork" is, or ought to be, the focus - seems to have been somewhat money-motivated as he explored the possibility of switching from basketball to golf. While Barkley appears to have dropped this idea, the idea that he was exploring how he might get a "piece of the action" is revealed in the hard copy version of the headline on The Times' article about his participation in the recent tournament. 

Finally, there is our former president's dedication to money. That he has such a dedication to money is well known, and that does come through in The Times' coverage. Even more, of course, what comes through is the former president's belief that he doesn't have to follow the rules - whatever they are, and in any and every situation in which he finds himself. 

One of my mother's favorite expressions was "Cheaters never prosper." With respect to Mr. Trump, I'm hoping that this proves, ultimately, to be the case. So far, on the golf course, and otherwise, he seems to be getting away with it!

Sunday, July 31, 2022

#213 / The Most Promising Antidote


My friend Richard Charter, pictured above, is currently a Senior Fellow at The Ocean Foundation, where he directs its Coastal Coordination Program. In 2011, Richard was honored as a "Hero of the Sea," receiving a Peter Benchley Ocean Award that recognized his years of successful work in protecting our ocean environment. 
Richard's work on coastal and marine protection issues began in the mid-1970s. He worked with Santa Cruz County, and with other California coastal communities, fighting proposed offshore oil development, and it was Richard's continuing work against offshore oil, more than any other factor, that maintained a bipartisan 27-year annual renewal of the offshore drilling moratorium that has long protected the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts. 
If I had to name the single most important and effective person in the successful effort to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, I'd name Richard Charter. Richard is currently working to advance a proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary off San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties.

Richard has also just written a book (an eBook) titled, Only Living Planet. Richard's book is available for a free download. Just click this link to get your copy. Richard calls his book a "true story of how climate change became a crisis and what is possible – and now necessary" to overcome the crisis that confronts us.
The purpose of my blog posting, today, is to encourage readers to click the link and to find out what Richard has to say about global warming, and what we can do about it. 
When you read through the book, I think you will get the same impression I got. We are in deep trouble because of our continuing combustion of fossil fuels, but we have the ability, actually, to make a successful transition to a different kind of energy future. Richard's book, in other words, is actually a rather "hopeful" book. Here is what Richard has to say about that: 
Hope is the most promising antidote for the emerging institutional paralysis over climate impacts, a social reluctance based on fear and lack of understanding of the science of climate change. The path to a resilient, thriving future remains ours to determine, and transitioning to social patterns that can resolve the current dilemma that we now face lies within reach. We need only to act decisively and with all due caution, with our next steps based on paying close attention to realizing the full potential of our collective journey into the future (emphasis added).
Few would have thought, in 1975, that citizen-based efforts, initiated in Santa Cruz County, California, could succeed in beating the oil companies, nationwide, and in stopping offshore oil development everywhere along our nation's coasts except where it was already underway. And yet, we did succeed in doing that - and in maintaining that offshore drilling moratorium for twenty-seven years, with bipartisan support in the Congress and in both Democratic and Republican administrations. 

Let's not give up on the global warming challenge that confronts us. Let's remember what Richard Charter says (and he ought to know):

Hope Is The Most Promising Antidote

Saturday, July 30, 2022

#212 / Fukuyama's Latest


The picture of Francis Fukuyama, above, comes from an article retrieved from a Stanford University website. The article, dated December 12, 2019, is titled, "Francis Fukuyama on Why We Should All Be Paying Attention to Ukraine." Given the date, and the title, it seems like Fukuyama may have been on to something.
Fukuyama, for those coming late to the show, is the guy best known for his suggestion, made in 1992, that we have reached the "end of history." As recent events in Ukraine testify, it doesn't seem like that prediction was actually on target. History still keeps happening! An article in the May 11, 2022, edition of The New York Times, "After History's End, Still Plugging Along," gives us Fukuyama's latest thinking. Without saying so, explicitly, Fukuyama does appear to concede the extreme prematurity of his 1992 pronouncement.

Because I am in favor of the continuation of history, and particularly because I believe that every human being is capable, always, in any circumstance, of doing something new and unexpected, and making history, I have not, really, been much of a Frances Fukuyama fan. This is not to say that I haven't paid attention to him, and to his "end of history" claim. As I searched my archives, I found lots of blog postings dealing with Fukuyama's proposition:

The recent New York Times' article, which was stimulated by a new book from Fukuyama, Liberalism and Its Discontents,  provides me with yet another occasion to comment on Fukuyama and his theories. Here is the specific observation in The Times' article that prompts this latest blog posting: 
In his new book, released on Tuesday by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Fukuyama argues that liberalism is threatened not by a rival ideology, but by “absolutized” versions of its own principles. On the right, the promoters of neoliberal economics have turned the ideal of individual autonomy and the free market into a religion, warping the economy and leading to dangerous systemic instability. And on the left, he argues, progressives have abandoned individual autonomy and free speech in favor of claims of group rights that threaten national cohesion (emphasis added).
I think that Fukuyama is correct in his understanding that both "individual autonomy" and "group rights" are essential components of a democratic society. We are both individuals and we are "together in this life," and we shouldn't forget either one of those truths. We need to build our society on both of them.

As we act individually, and together, there is a lot of history still to be written, a lot of things for us still to accomplish. As The Wilburys put it, in "End Of The Line," which I consider to be a truly great song, we still have "something to say." There are stories still to be written, stories to be told. 
So, what will the end of our story be? Which way will that "arc of history" be bent?

It could go either way, and as Bob Dylan has said (and I think correctly), "I guess it must be up to me!'

In other words, Fukuyama is right about that "personal autonomy" thing.
Image Credit:

Friday, July 29, 2022

#211 / I Am Kind Of Seeing Some Irony, Here


Pictured above is the folded-up James Webb Space Telescope, as it was prepared for mounting on a rocket and for its launch last year at the European spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana. I got the picture from an online version of a New York Times' article, "No Sign of Martians, but Webb Will Keep Looking." The online headline is different, as is so often the case.
The first images we have received, now that the new space telescope is operational, are truly awe-inspiring. You can click the link to view them. What I was mainly interested in, though, in The New York Times article, was this description of what scientists are trying to find, using this new hardware:

This month will mark a new chapter in the search for extraterrestrial life, when the most powerful space telescope yet built will start spying on planets that orbit other stars. Astronomers hope that the James Webb Space Telescope will reveal whether some of those planets harbor atmospheres that might support life.

Identifying an atmosphere in another solar system would be remarkable enough. But there is even a chance — albeit tiny — that one of these atmospheres will offer what is known as a biosignature: a signal of life itself.

“I think we will be able to find planets that we think are interesting — you know, good possibilities for life,” said Megan Mansfield, an astronomer at the University of Arizona. “But we won’t necessarily be able to just identify life immediately.” 
So far, NASA has spent $10 billion on the James Webb telescope. I suppose that's not really very much, when we consider that the United States government is spending about $800 billion a year on what is euphemistically called "defense." In an excellent column in the San Jose Mercury News, Lindsay Koshgarian ably demonstrates how we could vastly improve life on Earth, were we to redirect those funds.

Still, $10 billion is a lot of money to be looking for atmospheric signatures indicating life on exoplanets around stars located in other galaxies, thousands of light years away. 

Maybe it's just me, but I am kind of seeing some irony, here, as we look for life on planets that are light years away while we happen to be living on the only planet in the entire universe where we know that life exists, and where we are in the middle of a massive extinction event - the "Sixth Extinction" - caused by our own human activities. 

Am I off base, here, or are you feeling some irony, too?

Another NASA image. No new telescope required.

Image Credits:
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