Sunday, May 29, 2022

#149 / KSR, II - Time To Do Something About It

 

The initials KSR refer to Kim Stanley Robinson, author of a relatively recent science fiction novel, Ministry For The Future. This is my fourth reference to Robinson's book.
 
My first posting about the book was titled, "KSR," and appeared in February of this year. At that time, as I reported, I had just become aware of Ministry For The Future. I referenced an excellent article on Robinson in The New Yorker, and I promised myself (and anyone reading my blog) that I would read Robinson's book. 

By March 5th of this year, I had just started reading Ministry For The Future, as indicated in my blog posting titled, "Sustained Debate Among Committed People." On March 12th, I referenced Robinson's book for a third time, as discussed in "Facing Up To Nartsuk." On March 12th, when I wrote that blog posting on "Facing Up To Nartsuk," I had read up to page 368 (in a 563-page book). 
 
I actually finished Ministry For The Future in the middle of March, probably about two months ago by the time you are reading this blog entry. 
 
I am still recommending the book! I hope you'll read it:
 
 
On May 4, 2022,  an article from the online magazine, Inverse, reminded me that I had made a kind of implicit promise to provide a close-out evaluation of Ministry For The Future, once I was finished reading the whole book. To fulfill that implicit promise, here is my fourth blog posting about Robinson's novel. 
 
The article in Inverse was titled, "India's Heatwaves: These Maps Put South Asia's Scorching Temperatures In Perspective." Click that link to read the article. It's heavy on the visuals. The picture at the top of this blog posting will give you an idea of what this article in Inverse has to tell us. It's not really very good news.
 
Robinson's book begins with one of the main characters living through a heat wave in India, just the kind of heat wave described in the article in Inverse. In Ministry For The Future, the heat wave killed some 2,000,000 people, in a single incident. That is what stimulates the world, finally, to react to the immense dangers posed by global warming, and to create a "Ministry For The Future." In the end, Robinson's novel does end up being somewhat hopeful about our ability to take the steps necessary to survive. That is one of the appealing features of the book; you could even say it has a kind of "happy ending." Bad as the bad news really is, there is hope, too!

It is worth reminding ourselves, however, that Ministry For The Future, through written by an author who is known to write "science fiction," is not really all that "fictional." In fact, the book really gives us more "science," than "fiction," and the science it presents is real science, too, not the made-up kind.
 
The Inverse article refers to a heat wave that killed 2,000 people in India, but that heat wave took place in 2015. Robinson's portrayal of where we are today (with a single heat wave in India killing two million people) is most emphatically not talking about "future" conditions. He is talking about now. That's why I think that what might be portrayed as a kind of "happy ending" comes with no guarantees. 

The heat map, below, from the Inverse article, shows surface temperatures in India of over 140 degrees, Fahrenheit. Those are, truly, temperatures that can kill millions. These are temperatures experienced THIS YEAR. 
 
In Kuwait, this past March, as a news report tells us, "it was so hot that birds dropped dead from the sky. Sea horses boiled to death in the bay. Dead clams coated the rocks, their shells popped open like they'd been steamed." 

"Time Is Running Out To Fix Climate," we are told by The New York Times. A sub-headline says this, in the hard copy edition: "Warming May Outstrip the Ability to Adapt."
 
I don't think Kim Stanley Robinson would disagree one bit. 
 
That means, when we think about "climate change," and about the term I prefer, "global warming," which is the process that is driving our killer climate events, that we are now far beyond the point of learning and observing. 
 
It is time for us to do something about it. 

Right now, we don't have a "Ministry For The Future." We might need to create one!

If we want to have a future, that is!


 
Image Credits:
(1) and (2) - https://www.inverse.com/science/visualizing-indias-heat-waves
 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

#148 / "Firmly On Track"

 

On Tuesday, April 5, 2022, an Associated Press story ran in most of the newspapers to which I subscribe. Here is the headline I saw about a month ago (you can click the link to get to the story):

 
This is not, really, what you might call "news." If you didn't already know that Earth is on track toward an "unlivable world," you haven't really been paying attention. 
 
I was happy that an Opinion Editorial for which I shared some credit - focused on our global warming crisis and what to do about it - ran on the same day, in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, my hometown newspaper. However, what I thought about when I saw the "On Track" headline was a rather thin and obscure book by Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal, Economic Theory And Under-Developed Regions
 
Myrdal's book is now available, I gather, only as a used and rather pricey paperback. That book, first published in May 1957, had a big impact on me. I remember picking up the hardbound copy I still own at the Stanford Bookstore, and learning about the following phrase: 

Circular And Cumulative Causation
 
In essence, what Myrdal wanted his readers to understand is that our economic and social processes do NOT tend towards "balance." Quite the opposite. We tend to think that "Newton's Third Law" defines how our world works: 

Newton’s third law states that when two bodies interact, they apply forces to one another that are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction. The third law is also known as the law of action and reaction. This law is important in analyzing problems of static equilibrium, where all forces are balanced, but it also applies to bodies in uniform or accelerated motion. The forces it describes are real ones, not mere bookkeeping devices. For example, a book resting on a table applies a downward force equal to its weight on the table. According to the third law, the table applies an equal and opposite force to the book. This force occurs because the weight of the book causes the table to deform slightly so that it pushes back on the book like a coiled spring.
Not really so, says Myrdal - at least with respect to the processes that shape and determine the kind of world in which we most immediately live - the "Human World." I always compare our "Human World" to that "primary" world, upon which we all, ultimately, depend. Ultimately, we live in the "World of Nature," the "World God Made." 
 
What Myrdal says, and it was a revelation to me as an undergraduate student, majoring in history, is that whatever processes we put in motion continue to perpetuate themselves, and even grow, and to cause "more of the same." In other words, neither the "market" or any other force will "balance out" the impacts of the actions we take, and have taken. What we do is not "self-correcting." Again, we tend to think that we can rely on some kind of inevitability to make sure that if we do something to put our world out of balance, there is a built in "correction mechanism" that will get us back on an even keel.
 
Not so says Myrdal, and he is right!
 
So, if we are waiting around for some kind of "market mechanism" to save us from human-caused global warming and its consequences, we are foolishly letting precious time slip by. 
 
That's what the UN has said, as reported on by the Associated Press, on April 5, 2022. Since then, we have let another whole month slip away. 
 
We are still, I regret to inform you (and it shouldn't be "news"), "Firmly on Track."
 
 
Image Credit:
https://www.post-gazette.com/news/environment/2022/04/04/UN-warns-Earth-firmly-on-track-toward-an-unlivable-world/stories/202204040114
 
 
 

Friday, May 27, 2022

#147 / Coinherence

 

In a reflection on the Gospel of John 10:31-42, Bishop Robert Baron promotes the idea of "coinherence":
 
Charles Williams stated that the master idea of Christianity is "coinherence," mutual indwelling. If you want to see this idea concretely displayed, look to the pages of the Book of Kells, that masterpiece of early Christian illumination. Lines interwoven, designs turning in and around on each other, plays of plants, animals, planets, human beings, angels, and saints. The Germans call it Ineinander (one in the other).

I am not beyond pointing out that a "religious" insight might provide a valuable "political" insight, as well. When talking about "coinherence," from a political perspective, the point is that while we are all "individuals," and that our individual existences fundamentally define who it is we are, we are not only individuals. We are, in fact, "together through life." It is our "coinherence" that ultimately best describes the nature of our political reality (our "human" reality), and we forget this at our peril.

None of us can survive as a solitary individual. You don't have to be a particular fan of John Donne (or Catholic Bishops, for that matter) to understand that Donne was right, and that "No man is an island, entire of itself." 

When we forget the fact of our coinherence, and celebrate and promote our divisions and singularities, as a substitute for a recognition of our connection and unity, we put our ability to survive at risk. 

oooOOOooo

For Whom the Bell Tolls
by John Donne
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Image Credit:
https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/secrets-book-of-kells

Thursday, May 26, 2022

#146 / The Poem Of Force

 

One immediate and important purpose of this blog posting is to encourage those who live in or who can easily visit Santa Cruz County to attend a performance of An Iliad, now being presented by the Jewel Theatre Company
 
The image at the very bottom of this blog posting, from the Jewel Theatre website, is not clickable, but the link to the tittle of the play, as presented in the preceding paragraph, most certainly is! Click that link and you'll be taken to the place where you can book your tickets! I am recommending that readers do that, and thus expose themselves to The Iliad, traditionally attributed to Homer, and a poem that is generally appreciated as one of the greatest works of human literature.
 
If you can't attend a performance of An Iliad at the Jewel Theatre (and I really hope you can), you can click the following link, and learn about The Iliad, or The Poem of Force. That link will tell you how to order a copy of a little pamphlet with that title, published by Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat and conference center for religious and social study, located in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.

I first read the Pendle Hill Pamphlet in 1964. The pamphlet was authored by Simone Weil, a French philosopher, mystic, and political activist, who died in 1943, the year I was born. Albert Camus described Weil as "the only great spirit of our times." 
 
Weil was much beloved by Hannah Arendt, which is, I feel certain, why I was inspired to purchase the pamphlet with her writing on the Iliad (Pendle Hill Pamphlet #91, then listed at the price of 45 cents). I have since subscribed to the Pendle Hill Pamphlet series, and I now have all of the pamphlets, from #91 to the latest, #469. These pamphlets, adding up, have commandeered over three feet of shelf space in the bookcase in my bedroom.  If you want to find out what Quakers think, you can subscribe to the Pendle Hill pamphlet series, too. 

BACK TO THE PLAY:
The Iliad, which is a poem not a play, is one of the most powerful anti-war statements ever made. As Weil says:
 
This poem is a miracle. Its bitterness is the only justifiable bitterness, for it springs from the subjections of the human spirit to force, that is, in the last analysis, to matter.... No one in the Iliad is spared by it, as no one on earth is. No one who succumbs to it is by virtue of this fact regarded with contempt. Whoever, within his own soul and in human relations, escapes the dominion of force is loved but loved sorrowfully because of the threat of destruction that constantly hangs over him.
 
In the Jewel Theatre production, the power of the Iliad is dramatically amplified by the prodigious performance of Patty Gallagher. The play is a theatrical tour de force. It is also one of the most profoundly moving anti-war statements that I can remember having seen - more impactful than the poem itself. Better even than Simone Weil's statement, which is very, very powerful in its own right.
 
The war in Ukraine is featured. In Gallagher's performance we are there, even as we are back on the battlefields of Troy. We are in each and every hometown in America. Gallagher's performance brought me to tears. You should see this play, and watch Patty Gallagher do something I bet you will never have seen before!

Yesterday, the President of the United States indicated that he was prepared to have the United States do battle with China, should China attack Taiwan. The war in Ukraine continues, with death and devastation growing, and with the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over the conflict as it continues. Any war with China would certainly pose the same, or even greater, risk.
 
As Peter, Paul, And Mary sang to us, "When will we we ever learn? When will we ever learn?" 
 
The "they" in the song's lyrics has been transmuted to "we" in what I have written above. You can click the link to see a live Peter, Paul, And Mary performance. The "they" they sing about means you and me! 
 
We must escape the doom of war, which subjects the human spirit to the power of mere force, and thus obliterates all that is precious in what we think, and in what we say, and in what we do. Listen to that Peter, Paul, and Mary song. We must learn. 
 
And listen to Pete Seeger, too. The video is powerful. As he tells us, we must put an end to war!

Finally (and last but not least in this list of assignments) watch the play

Become inspired.


 
 
 
 
Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.amazon.com/Iliad-Force-Pendle-Pamphlet-Number/dp/B07CRSGH6H
(2) - https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10596109/Ukraine-war-Mariupol-buries-dead-civilian-toll-besieged-port-city-passes-1-200.html
(3) -  https://www.jeweltheatre.net/an-iliad/
 
 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

#145 / Something Unseemly, To Put It Mildly

 
 
I have already inveighed against Crypto.com and its advertising strategy. You can see my thoughts by clicking on this link, which will take you to a December 2021, blog posting that was stimulated by a full page Crypto.com advertisement in The Wall Street Journal. I was pleased to see that economist Paul Krugman, in a much more recent statement, has essentially endorsed my analysis (I am not mentioned personally, of course). Here is how Krugman puts it: 
 
Those who question crypto’s purpose are constantly confronted with the argument that the sheer scale of the industry — at their peak, crypto assets were worth almost $3 trillion — and the amount of money true believers have made along the way proves the skeptics wrong. 
Can we, the public, really be that foolish and gullible? Well, maybe the crypto skeptics are wrong. But on the question of folly and gullibility, the answer is yes, we can.
 
On Sunday, February 6, 2022, The New York Times Magazine ran an article by Jody Rosen, which The Times titled, "Brave Face" in the hard-copy edition of the magazine. Online, Rosen's article has this title: "Why Is Matt Damon Shilling For Crypto?
 
Good question! Here is what Rosen says about Matt Damon's latest video advertisement, and about similar marketing efforts by other admired entertainers:

There is something unseemly, to put it mildly, about the famous and fabulously wealthy urging crypto on their fans.
 
Click this link to view the video to which Rosen objects. 
 
In case The Times' paywall makes it impossible for you to read the entirely of Rosen's analysis, the following excerpt will give you Rosen's concluding lines: 
 
The bleakness of that pitch is startling. In recent weeks, while watching televised sports — where the Crypto.com spot airs repeatedly, alongside commercials for other crypto platforms and an onslaught of ads for sports-gambling apps — I could not shake the feeling that culture has taken a sinister turn: that we’ve sanctioned an economy in which tech start-ups compete, in broad daylight, to lure the vulnerable with get-rich-quick schemes....
We live in troubled times. The young, in particular, may feel that they are peering over the edge, economically and existentially. This ad’s message for them seems to be that the social compact is ruptured, that the old ideals of security and the good life no longer pertain. What’s left are moonshots, big swings, high-stakes gambles. You might bet a long-shot parlay or take a flier on Dogecoin. Maybe someday you’ll hitch a ride on Elon Musk’s shuttle bus to the Red Planet. The ad holds out the promise of “fortune,” but what it’s really selling is danger, the dark and desperate thrills of precarity itself — because, after all, what else have we got? You could call it truth in advertising. 
 
What else have we got? We have each other, and planet Earth. That is more than enough. That is enough to take us through any challenge, any period of precarity.

Let's not be distracted! 
 
Let's not be fooled!
 
Image Credit:
https://crypto.com/us/fftb 
 
 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

#144 / Murmurations Of Starlings

 

On April 27, 2022, The New York Times ran an article, in its "The World Through A Lens" series. The article was titled, "Transfixed by the Beauty of Starling Murmurations." Written by Søren Solkær, the article reported on Solkær's travels around the world, as he tracked down and photographed these amazing and beautiful natural phenomena. If you are not blocked by a paywall, clicking on that link to The Times' article should let you see some of these murmurations in video, so you, too, can be transfixed. 

Solkær explains, among other things, why scientists think that starlings engage in these murmurations: first, to help protect the birds from predators, by a "dilution effect." Second, as a way to help keep the starlings warm in the evenings by recruiting larger roosts. Solkær also commented on something he said was more difficult to explain, which is just how the birds are able to move in such proximity, with their movements so tightly coordinated. 

In connection with that discussion, Solkær reported as follows:

Studies have found that each starling responds to six or seven of its nearest neighbors, a number that seems to optimize the balance between the cohesion of the group and the effort of the individual.
 
In the world of starlings, in other words, just as in our human and "political" world, it appears that small groups are the key to success - the key to ensuring effective collaboration between "individuals," and the totality. We are both "individuals," and part of a much larger whole; we are  "together" in this life. How do we, as individuals, coordinate and work effectively with the group as a whole?

Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, has told us how it works for humans. Søren Solkær has let us know that the same rule works for the starlings!
 
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it's the only thing that ever has.
 

Image Credit:
https://www.treehugger.com/the-incredible-science-behind-starling-murmurations-4863751


Monday, May 23, 2022

#143 / I Was Not Named For Gary Cooper

 

Pictured above is Laurence (Larry) Trimble, an American silent film director, writer and actor who was most widely known for his four films starring Strongheart, "a German Shepherd dog [that Trimble] discovered and trained that became the first major canine film star." As it happens, Trimble was also associated with my father, Philips Patton, and the picture above comes from a Patton family collection

As you will see if you click this link, my father entered a national contest, in 1930, and won the right to provide one of Strongheart's sons with a home. Actually, I have written about this before, and the link right here provides a readable version of the letter that won the dog. 
 
The picture above, in fact, shows Trimble not with Strongheart, but with Geri, the dog that my father won in that American Boy contest. Very sadly, my Dad was not able to keep the dog for very long. Shortly after Geri arrived in Saint Anthony, Idaho, where my father lived, my father's mother died, and my father had to relocate to San Francisco, where he couldn't keep the dog. He had to give Geri back to Trimble, and kept up a brief correspondence with him. 

As the four Patton children grew up, we learned, of course, of my Dad's early literary triumph, and how he won, and then lost, this wonderful and amazing dog. It was a great story, and my father's history has provided other examples of how my father's writing abilities made all the difference in his life. I am around today because of my Dad's ability to write compelling and persuasive prose. I am pretty sure that it was my father's letters to my mother, extending over years, that ultimately convinced her to marry him. I wouldn't be around if he had not been successful!

At any rate, to get to the point of this blog posting, I was always interested (as I think was natural) in why my parents gave me the name, "Gary." There were no other family members, on either side, that had that name, and I would have much preferred to have been named, "Philips," after my Dad. "Philips" is a pretty unusual name (particularly as a first name), and was the maiden name of my father's mother, Clara Olney Philips, whom my Dad adored. Why wasn't I named, "Philips," I wanted to know, and why was I named, "Gary"?

Well, my parents were never very forthcoming about that. My mom, in particular, who always handled the question when asked, uniformly tried to put off any serious response, treating the question as if it didn't matter in the slightest. Why and how I got my first name just wasn't consequential, the way she saw it.  My Mother always responded this way to any effort by me to raise the question: "Well, we just liked the name." My mother would tell me that. Or, "I don't know, Gary, we just loved the name; maybe because of Gary Cooper." 
 
The name of the dog my Dad had won never entered into the discussion about my name, and in fact, the name of the dog never featured in any of the family discussions about my Dad's letter writing triumph, and the sad story of how he had to give the dog back. While I read the article a number of times, as I was growing up, and while I certainly saw that the dog was named "Geri," it never struck me that this name might be pronounced just the way my own name was. 
 
Except..... One time, for some reason (and this was when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old, I think), I went looking for the article, and I couldn't find it, and so I asked my mom if she knew where I could find the article about dad winning the dog. In responding, my mom pronounced the dog's name, saying something like, "Oh, we will have to find that article; winning GARY was such a great thing for your dad." Then... having said that, my mother looked immediately startled, realizing she had, at last, provided me with some genuine insight into the origin of my first name. 
 
I still remember the look my mother gave me, as she heard the dog's name pop out of her mouth. My mother immediately tried to try to distract me, hoping, I am sure, that I didn't pick up on what she had said. I didn't say anything, myself, since I, too, was startled. I had never had a clue that "Geri" could be pronounced, "Gary," and I never confronted my parents about the origins of my name ever again. I just knew, after that inadvertent disclosure, that I was most likely named, "Gary" in honor of that wonderful dog, "Geri," whose name was pronounced just like mine. Or, actually, vice versa!

This all came up, just a couple of months ago, when a person doing research on Larry Trimble's career contacted our family, because she had found some information about Trimble on the family website. My sister, Nancy, translated some of the handwritten letters into more readable text, and Margaret Stevens, the woman doing the research, was very appreciative. Because I never actually had any definitive proof that "Geri" was pronounced "Gary," instead of "Jerry," I sent Ms. Stevens an email, asking her if she had any information on that subject. Was it "Jerry" or "Gary?" Helpfully, Ms. Stevens sent me back a little screenshot of a letter that makes it all clear: 

"Geri" was pronounced with a "hard G." "Gary" it is! I now know for sure that I was not named for Gary Cooper. I was named for a pretty wonderful dog. I guess I am just going to have to try to live up to the legacy!

 
Image Credit:
Patton Family Photo - https://www.nancysatelier.com/blog/vystxu3l5k3j0wppchhbfldvzl0dic 


Sunday, May 22, 2022

#142 / What Shakespeare Said Popped Up For Me

 

Sometimes, little snippets, phrases, will pop into my mind. Not long ago, thinking about the sad state of the world, how bad things are, the following words made a jump from somewhere I could not then identify and landed in my active consciousness. What came to me were these few words, and these words only: 

The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
 
These are, in fact, the words of Cassius, from  Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141), but I did not remember that it was Cassius who spoke the words that came to me, and I did not remember to whom the words were addressed, or the fact that these words were the words of William Shakespeare, from his play, Julius Caesar.
 
In other words, the thought that came to me, responsive to my reflection about our current situation (environmental, economic, social, and political) was the thought that we have "no one to blame but ourselves." That's certainly true!

But since I knew that these words that had come to me were famous words, and because I was chagrined that I didn't actually know exactly where they came from, I went looking for their provenance. Who said that, exactly? And in what context? I didn't remember, but I didn't have to look far. What had popped up in my brain was a partial rendition of this slightly more extensive quotation:


Cassius:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars...
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
 
 
Those words of Shakespeare, as they had popped up for me, left both Brutus and Cassius completely out of the quotation, and I had clearly forgotten about that reference to the fact that "we are underlings."
 
Of course, in the play, Cassius is trying to nudge Brutus to join in to the killing of Julius Caesar. We should not be "underlings," he says. Let's kill the guy who is over us.
 
In a different context, entirely, I think that the part of Cassius' speech that refers to "underlings" is important. In fact, there is a profound insight in those words.

When the world is not right, it is not because of some fault in "the stars." The fault is "in ourselves." We have no one but ourselves to blame for the state of the world! But what, specifically, is wrong with us?  What, exactly, is that fault in ourselves that Cassius (and Shakespeare) identify? 
 
What is wrong with us is that we do not credit our own abilities - our "agency," to use a modern word - but act, instead, as though, in this world, we are mere "underlings." That what exists now (however unacceptable) is preordained. We defer to an authority - to a "reality" based on that claim of authority - that has been asserted over the world without any actual justification. We let those who seem to be "in charge" continue to run this world of ours, and that is our fault. 

In order to assert our "agency," we do not, actually, have to "kill" those leaders whom we have been following, to whom we have subordinated ourselves, the leaders to whom we act as "underlings." 

We just need to replace them, that's all, all those "leaders" to whom we defer, and to whom we act as "underlings," those killers whom we let walk free, with their "high office relations in the politics of Maryland (and everywhere else, for that matter)."
 
That is our fault. Our fault is that we let others rule the world when we know they do it badly. That is a fault not in our stars, but in ourselves, and the fault is that we act as "underlings," and place ourselves under the control of institutions that uphold and advance a reality that is truly unjust, and that we know is unjust, and that we know puts the entire world in peril.

We have not taken charge, as we could - and as we should. We have acted like "underlings," but we are not. We are citizens, and we should understand that both justice and power reside with the people - the ordinary people. You and me. 
Cassius:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars...
But in ourselves, that we are underlings. 
And that must change.
Image Credit:
https://www.shakespearepapers.com/faq.aspx 
 
 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

#141 / Who We Are?

 

Anand Giridharadas has written about the killings in Buffalo. The image above comes from his posting on that topic. Giridharadas has titled his post, "This is who we are. It isn't who we have to be." He initiates his article about the horrific killings in Buffalo as follows:

This is not who we are. It is always tempting to frame episodes like the racist massacre in Buffalo as the exception to the rule. It is harder to acknowledge what the overwhelming record makes plain. This is precisely who we are.
 
Making statements about who somebody "is," and about "who we are," is always problematic. I have written in this blog before about why such statements can never be taken at full face value. My earlier blog posting was called, "All Of The Above," and discussed that wonderful poem about "The Blind Men And The Elephant." What we say about the character of any one person, or about the character of a collective group, is almost always certain to provide us with what is only a "partial list" of what is actually true.
 
In my earlier blog posting, I also mentioned what I call the "is" fallacy. When we say that something "is," we often act as though we are describing a truth that is "essential," that is both permanent and unchangeable. 
 
In fact, reality does not confront us as a "done deal." Our "is" statements are only valid as a current measurement, not as a statement about some sort of inevitable truth. To Giridharadas' credit, his statement that our nation "is" racist, and that this racism defines "who we are," is qualified by his assertion that this "isn't who we have to be." While this declaration might seem to eliminate any cause for unhappiness with what Giridharadas said, there actually is a difference between "being" and "doing." Who we "are," and what we "do" are actually separate things. I continue to caution against the "is fallacy." Using verbs like "is" and "are," to make statements about individuals or societies, is almost certainly going to lead to confusion, since such statements, on their face, claim to have identified some essential truth or attribute of whoever or whatever is being described.
 
I prefer to position myself, always, as an apostle of "possibility." In the world we have created (as differentiated from the World of Nature, which we did not create, and into which we have been rather mysteriously born), all things are possible. This includes both horrible things, like the Buffalo killings, and good things, like heroic individual actions, and the collective response of our society to human need. 
 
Let us not forget, either, the "time dimension" that is inherent in all statements about what "is," or about "who we are." Those "is" and "are" verbs seem to refer to the present, but they actually describe the past. Even if an "is" statement is absolutely accurate when spoken, we must remember that the past does not determine the future, and thus who we "are," today, may be quite different from who we will be tomorrow, since that future will depend on what we do today - right now.

Freedom - we should never forget it - lives in the present. Believing that we have, right now, the possibility (both individually and collectively) to defy what we often, and erroneously, assume to be an unchangeable "reality," may be something not dissimilar from what is called "faith" in the context of religion. 
 
If we want to be different from who Giridharadas says "we are," we need to believe that we do, indeed, have the ability to transform ourselves, and to transform what we have done, and to do something new. 
 
In Matthew 17:20, Jesus is quoted as saying, “If you have faith as a small as a mustard seed ... nothing will be impossible for you."
 
Nothing is impossible in the human world in which we most immediately live. I think that's right! But we need to believe that who we "are" is not really a statement about limitations, or inevitabilities, or about our essential nature. We need to know that what counts in the end is not who we "are," but what we do. 
 
 
Image Credit:
https://the.ink/p/this-is-who-we-are-it-isnt-who-we?s=r

Friday, May 20, 2022

#140 / Bumpersticker Wisdom, II

 

The last time I provided a bit of "Bumpersticker Wisdom" in this blog, the date was April 24, 2018, which is something like four years ago. While this blog posting is going to appear on May 20th, I am actually typing in this brief explanation on April 23, 2022.

What sort of "Bumpersticker Wisdom" did I offer four years ago? First, I provided the following piece of advice (conveying a sentiment I continue to espouse, with or without a bumpersticker to make the point):
 
 

 
Second, I added the following admonition to that 2018 blog posting, just for fun:
 


 
As for today's "Bumpersticker Wisdom," that "Love Thy Neighbor (NO Exceptions)" advisory comes to us thanks to the Friends Committee on National Legislation - and to the owner of the car I saw parked in the Stevenson College parking lot as I showed up to speak to a "Teach-In" class on the climate crisis, on April 22, 2022, an "Earth Day" afternoon.
 
I probably should have saved this blog posting for a presentation on Sunday, since the bumpersticker reminds me of what I heard almost every Sunday, growing up in the All Saints' Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, California
 
Quakers don't do "liturgy," but the Episcopalians definitely do, and here is a snippet of that liturgy that I never forget
 
Note, please, that even without the "liturgy," the Quakers agree: 

When asked which commandment is greatest, Jesus responds (in Matthew 22:37): “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
 
Bumpersticker wisdom. Really good advice!

 
 
Image Credits:
(1) - Gary A. Patton, personal photo
(2) - https://www.neverbetter.com/product/were-all-in-this-together-sticker-bumper-stickers/
(3) - https://www.pinterest.com/pin/461689399272773404/?lp=true
 
 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

#139 / Speaking About Money

 

My blog posting yesterday was an effort to discourage any of my friends and followers from "investing" in cryptocurrency. I have family members who seem sorely tempted. I am not so tempted, myself, and that is largely true because when I was quite young my father provided me with a personal copy of Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds. I am, more or less, trying to "pay it forward" by my cautionary words about cryptocurrency.

Incidentally, I wrote the blog posting that was published yesterday before the recent "crash" of the cryptocurrency market. I count the recent news as a pretty good confirmation of the point I was trying to make.
 
Since I have been "speaking about money," though, it may be that another warning is also in order. Central Bank Digital Currencies are not quite the same thing as the kind of cryptocurrencies I was talking about in yesterday's blog post. Still, there are some real dangers involved with Central Bank Digital Currencies, and if you haven't been paying attention, take a few minutes to get up to speed.
 
I suggest that you get up to speed by clicking this link, to learn what Charles Eisenstein has to say about Central Bank Digital Currencies. Eisenstein's commentary is not exactly short, but I think it is worthwhile. If you don't already know about proposals to move our "money" system to a system based on Central Bank Digital Currencies, you should find out about what is involved. 

Here is a very quick condensation of Eisenstein's longer explanation:

A central bank digital currency essentially allows private individuals and businesses to have accounts at the central bank. It would function just like (and ultimately replace) cash, requiring no intermediary, no bank, no credit card company, and no transaction fee. If I buy a coffee at your cafe, an app or card reader sends a message to automatically credit your account and debit mine. The user experience would be the same as today, but there would be no fee and no lag time. Normally, paying by debit or credit card involves a 3% fee and a day or two for the funds to become available to the seller. 
Now I’ll list some other benefits and advantages of CBDCs. You might notice that with a mere twist of the lens, many of these advantages take on an ominous hue. But let’s start with the positive: 
As mentioned, CBDCs can remove what is essentially a 3% tax on most consumer-level transactions, allowing swift, frictionless transactions and transfers of money. 
Unlike with physical cash, all CBDC transactions would have an electronic record, offering law enforcement a powerful weapon against money laundering, tax evasion, funding of terrorism, and other criminal activity. 
The funds of criminals and terrorists could be instantly frozen, rendering them incapable of doing anything requiring money such as buying an airplane ticket, filling up at a gas station, paying their phone or utility bills, or hiring an attorney. 
CBDCs are programmable, allowing authorities to limit purchases, payments, and income in whatever ways are socially beneficial. For example, all products could have a carbon score, and consumers could be limited in how much they are allowed to buy. Or, if rationing becomes necessary, authorities could impose a weekly limit on food purchases, gas purchases, and so on. 
With programmable currency, citizens could be rewarded for good behavior: for eating right and exercising, for doing good deeds that are reported by others, for staying away from drugs, for staying indoors during a pandemic, and for taking the medications that health authorities recommend. Or they could be penalized for bad behavior. 
Taxation and wealth redistribution could be automated. Universal basic income, welfare payments, stimulus payments, or racial reparations could be implemented algorithmically as long as CBDC accounts were firmly connected with individual’s identities, medical records, racial status, criminal histories, and so forth.
Basically, beyond facilitating transactions, CBDCs offer an unprecedented opportunity for social engineering. Assuming that those in control are beneficent and wise, this is surely a good thing. But if, as many of us now believe, our authorities are foolish, incompetent, corrupt, or are merely fallible human beings incapable of handling too much power, then CBDCs can easily become instruments of totalitarian oppression. They allow authorities:
To freeze the funds not only of terrorists and evil-doers, but dissidents, thought criminals, and scapegoated classes of people. 
To program money so it can only go to approved vendors, corporations, information platforms, and so forth. Those that fail to toe the party line can be “demonetized,” with consequences far beyond what befalls the hapless YouTuber who utters heresies about Covid, Ukraine, climate change, etc. 
Under the guise of rewarding good behavior and penalizing bad, to control every aspect of life so that it conforms to the interests of elite corporate and political institutions. 
To nip in the bud any opposition political movement by demonetizing its leaders and activists, either with no explanation at all, or under flimsy pretexts that their victims would have no way to contest.
It boggles my mind that the public could accept such a momentous transfer of power to central authorities, with nary a whisper of democratic process. Something this significant should require explicit public approval in the form of a referendum, constitutional amendment, or the like, after long and considered public debate. Instead, elites discuss it as if it were an inevitability (emphasis added).
 
Frequent readers of this blog know that I reject the whole idea of "inevitability." That said, it is also true that "self-government" is only made real when we get involved in government ourselves

So, be advised - and read the entire Eisenstein piece for more on Central Bank Digital Currencies!
 
 
Image Credits:
https://www.ft.com/content/de161efa-3a27-4bfd-8dec-cbd9ac07a2ef
 
 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

#138 / Investing In Money

 

Just in case you don't recognize the person pictured above, let me introduce you to Mayur Gupta, the recently-named Chief Marketing Officer of the cryptocurrency platform Kraken. You can read about Gupta's appointment by clicking right here. That link will direct you to an article in The Wall Street Journal of April 20, 2022. 
 
If you click this link, which will take you to the Kraken website, you will find the following pitch (at least, this is the "pitch" I found on the day I created this blog posting): 
 
Sign up today to easily buy 100+ cryptocurrencies. Get started in minutes with as little as $10.
 
Just because I am picky, let me note that Kraken has included a split infinitive in its online marketing efforts. A "split infinitive" is a grammatical construction ever more tolerated but, I think, still disfavored when good grammar is considered to be important. Let's talk about substance, however, not grammatical peccadilloes. What Kraken, and other cryptocurrency companies are offering us is an opportunity to invest in .....

Money. 
 
Money is the "medium of exchange" that saves us from the necessity to "barter" what assets we might have to put food on our table and a roof over our head. Money is an amazing invention that has led to our modern world.

Now, does investing our money in money really make any sense? I suggest not. 

Let's begin with a non-cryptocurrency example. I have a job. I earn a salary. When I get my check from my employer, I take that check down to the bank and I cash it, and I get.... Money. I get "dollars," to be specific. They are useful to buy things. But let's say I don't need all my dollars just to survive, and that I don't want to "consume" all the money that I have just earned. Say I have $1,000 left over after paying my rent and buying the groceries. I decide to "invest" that $1,000. What should I invest in? How about.... 

Money?

Investing my dollars in dollars makes no sense. I already have 1,000 dollars. Trading that $1,000 for a different $1,000 doesn't get me anywhere. If I want my money to earn me more money, then I have to invest in something that will "make money." For instance, I could invest in a start up high-tech firm. Or a student-run business that I think has lots of promise. Or Tesla. Or General Motors. I should be looking to "put my dollars to work," as the saying goes, giving them to an individual or a company that will use them to produce something that is worth more than the dollars I invest in the effort. 

But what if I invest in money itself? What if I invest my dollars in cryptocurrency, another form of money? I already have the dollars, and if I turn those dollars into Bitcoin, or one of the other 100+ cryptocurrencies advertised by Kraken, I am not investing them in any productive enterprise at all. I am just trading my money (in dollars) for another kind of money (in cryptocurrency). No new productive enterprise will eventuate. But....

Maybe I can trade my cryptocurrency money into money as measured in dollars at a later date, which will mean that I will end up with more dollars than I started off with. That is exactly what Kraken suggests that I should do.

Why would that work, though? Not because my money measured in dollars, when converted into money measured in cryptocurrency, is utilized for the production of something new that increases the value of the money I invested. 

No, I'll get more dollars back later on only if someone, somewhere, is willing to pay more dollars for the cryptocurrency I acquired with fewer dollars at the earlier date.

That would be great, but maybe they will pay less, too. It's a gamble on what other people will pay, not an "investment." Investing money in money is not really "investing," at all. It's speculating. 

No wonder Kraken needs a "marketing" officer!

According to another article in The Wall Street Journal (same date; this article on the first page): "Crypto Stocks Perform Worse Than Currencies."
 
Right. In other words, if you have some money measured in dollars, you'd be better off just to save those dollars, instead of turning them into cryptocurrency, hoping that someone, somewhere, will pay more dollars for that cryptocurrency money than you did. This is not surprising. 
 
Any investment that is not an effort to use our assets to do something that will result in the production of goods and services that will be worth more than the investment we initially made is not going to produce an increase in value. 
 
So, if you happen to be lucky enough to have some money left over after you pay your bills, you might want to save it (generally a good idea, actually), or you might want to "invest" it, and hope the enterprise or individual to which you entrust your money will make a good and productive use of it, so your investment increases in value.
 
Or.... you can turn your money measured in dollars into another form of money, measured in cryptocurrency, and hope that someone, somewhere, will pay you more dollars for the cryptocurrency than you paid for it initially. 
 
You can also take a trip to the Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino, located in the Fresno area. You might get lucky that way, too. 
 
 
Image Credit:
https://talkingbiznews.com/we-talk-biz-news/gannett-appoints-gupta-as-chief-marketing-and-strategy-officer/