Saturday, September 19, 2020

#263 / Lucky Us

David Brooks, columnist for The New York Times, wrote an opinion editorial on May 22, 2020, that featured the picture above. It was titled, "The First Invasion of America." Here is an excerpt:

To be born American was to be born boldly individual, daring and self-sufficient. “Trust thyself: Every heart vibrates to that iron string,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in an essay called, very Americanly, “Self-Reliance.” 
To be born American was to bow down to no one, to say: I’m no better than anyone else, but nobody’s better than me. Tocqueville wrote about the equality of condition he found in America; no one putting on airs over anyone else. In 1981, Samuel Huntington wrote that American creed was built around a suspicion of authority and a fervent rejection of hierarchy: “The essence of egalitarianism is rejection of the idea that one person has the right to exercise power over another.” 
I found it all so energizing. Being an American was not just a citizenship. It was a vocation, a call to serve a grand national mission. 
Today, of course, we understand what was wrong with that version of American history. It didn’t include everybody. It left out the full horrors of slavery and genocide. 
But here’s what has struck me forcefully, especially during the pandemic: That whole version of the American creed was all based on an assumption of existential security. Americans had the luxury of thinking and living the way they did because they had two whopping great oceans on either side. The United States was immune to foreign invasion, the corruptions of the old world. It was often spared the plagues that swept over so many other parts of the globe.

Brooks is certainly right that Americans have generally had the sense that we are "safe," because we are protected by those two oceans. The pathological fear of immigration felt by some portions of the population, which is another less-than-estimable part of American history, is based in part on the fear that the nation's protective borders can perhaps be penetrated, making us vulnerable. 

Brooks thinks a change is going on, with the current global pandemic playing a major role. Past understandings are being modified, and Brooks' prediction is that "economic resilience will be more valued than maximized efficiency ... The local and the rooted will be valued more than the distantly networked." "Community" will be valued over "individualism, [and] embeddedness over autonomy." 

Brooks speaks, always, as an "observer," trying to see what will happen to us. As "actors," we know that we actually create the reality we inhabit, ourselves. What we think will be possible - and thus what is possible - depends, of course, on our sense of who we are and where we are. We have been lucky in being able to grow up with those two "whopping great oceans" to the East and West, but we may be starting to get the sense that it is not those "borders" that provide us security, but that security is something we provide for ourselves, as we act together. If we are changing our way of thinking, to understand that our "security" comes from our commitment to one another, then this is an evidence that we have turned an important corner. The latest invasion that has come our way is the stimulus that can help us to discover a whole new world.

That "New World" thing should be pretty familiar. Americans have some experience with that, and this time around, let's not leave anyone behind, as we retool that Declaration that set us off the first time. Those truths are still "self-evident," that all persons are created equal, with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

We were lucky to learn it, early on, and there is no reason to forget that, now!

Image Credit:

Friday, September 18, 2020

#262 / Everybody Got To Move

This picture, of the Ranch Fire, in Azusa, California, is one of several horrific photographs included in an article that ran in The New York Times Magazine, and that was published online in collaboration with ProPublica. This was the second article in a series that began with "The Great Climate Migration." 

The first article, which I have just linked above, took a global perspective. The second article, from which the picture comes, is titled, "How Climate Migration Will Reshape America." It was published on September 15, 2020, and it focuses on the United States. The article is extremely long - but worthwhile reading! I am providing a short sample, below. I encourage those reading this blog posting to read the article in its entirety.

Let’s start with some basics. Across the country, it’s going to get hot. Buffalo, New York, may feel in a few decades like Tempe, Arizona, does today, and Tempe itself will sustain 100-degree average summer temperatures by the end of the century. Extreme humidity from New Orleans to northern Wisconsin will make summers increasingly unbearable, turning otherwise seemingly survivable heat waves into debilitating health threats. Fresh water will also be in short supply, not only in the West but also in places like Florida, Georgia and Alabama, where droughts now regularly wither cotton fields. By 2040, according to federal government projections, extreme water shortages will be nearly ubiquitous west of Missouri. The Memphis Sands Aquifer, a crucial water supply for Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana, is already overdrawn by hundreds of millions of gallons a day. Much of the Ogallala Aquifer — which supplies nearly a third of the nation’s irrigation groundwater — could be gone by the end of the century. 
It can be difficult to see the challenges clearly because so many factors are in play. At least 28 million Americans are likely to face megafires like the ones we are now seeing in California, in places like Texas and Florida and Georgia. At the same time, 100 million Americans — largely in the Mississippi River Basin from Louisiana to Wisconsin — will increasingly face humidity so extreme that working outside or playing school sports could cause heatstroke. Crop yields will be decimated from Texas to Alabama and all the way north through Oklahoma and Kansas and into Nebraska. 
The challenges are so widespread and so interrelated that Americans seeking to flee one could well run into another. I live on a hilltop, 400 feet above sea level, and my home will never be touched by rising waters. But by the end of this century, if the more extreme projections of 8 to 10 feet of sea-level rise come to fruition, the shoreline of San Francisco Bay will move 3 miles closer to my house, as it subsumes some 166 square miles of land, including a high school, a new county hospital and the store where I buy groceries. The freeway to San Francisco will need to be raised, and to the east, a new bridge will be required to connect the community of Point Richmond to the city of Berkeley. The Latino, Asian and Black communities who live in the most-vulnerable low-lying districts will be displaced first, but research from Mathew Hauer, a sociologist at Florida State University who published some of the first modeling of American climate migration in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2017, suggests that the toll will eventually be far more widespread: Nearly 1 in 3 people here in Marin County will leave, part of the roughly 700,000 who his models suggest may abandon the broader Bay Area as a result of sea-level rise alone.

I read the article on the day it appeared, and I had what I think might be an unusual reaction. The article dramatically points out the horrors that are just over the horizon. In fact, where I live, in Santa Cruz County, California, thousands of community members have already been experiencing these horrors personally, as local wildfires have destroyed their homes in Last Chance, Bonny Doon, and the San Lorenzo Valley.

One very reasonable reading of what Abrahm Lustgarten has to say is that "we're doomed." Considering our current, dysfunctional response to the Covid-19 global pandemic, there seems to be little reason for any optimism that we can somehow avoid the massive, climate-caused destruction that we know is coming - that we can already see, in fact, coming like wildfire, over the hill.

Yet, I had virtually the opposite reaction. There is no doubt about the daunting - almost insurmountable - challenges ahead, which are the result of heedless, human-caused global warming. Surely, despair is a reaction that does makes sense! What struck me, though, was the fact that the challenges were so great, so serious, that it is now impossible for us to ignore the most important fact of our human existence. We are not a bunch of isolated individuals, separated by race, gender, nationality, income, and education; we are in this life together. 

There is no way our nation - and indeed the world - will be able to survive what is coming (what is already underway) without a fundamental restructuring of our lives together, what I call "politics." All the divisions, from income inequality, to racial injustice, to gender discrimination, to you name it - ALL of them - all of these divisions which we have sanctified as inevitable and normal, must be swept aside. I think that is what is coming. That is what must come. 

Bob Dylan has a wonderful song, Mississippi, which has these lines in its final verse: 

Everybody movin’ if they ain’t already there
Everybody got to move somewhere
Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interesting right about now

Everybody is going to have to move. But we can do it. Despair is not our only choice. There is such opportunity, adventure, and enterprise ahead. Really! I mean it.

Things should start to get interesting, right about now!

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

#261 / Let's Talk About It

Pictured at the front of the class is Dr. Adolph Reed, Jr. Reed is an Emeritus Professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in studies of issues of racism and U.S. politics. Reed has taught at Yale, Northwestern, and at the New School for Social Research. He has written extensively on racial and economic inequality. Reed is a contributing editor to The New Republic, and he has been a frequent contributor to The Progressive and The Nation and other leftwing publications. He is a founding member of the U.S. Labor Party He was a Bernie Sanders supporter during the recent primary elections.

You might think, given this background, that Reed would get a pretty positive reception at a meeting of the New York City Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Well, he never got the chance to speak!

Reed, it appears, at least according to The New York Times, happens to believe that "the left's intense focus on the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on Black people" is counterproductive, in that it "undermines multiracial organizing." It is Reed's view, apparently, that such multiracial organizing is critically important as a way to move the nation towards health and economic justice. 

Reed might be right (or he might not be right) about this particular viewpoint, but if you were a member of the New York City Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, wouldn't you want to hear what Reed has to say about this?

Apparently not! As reported in the Augsut 15, 2020, edition of The New York Times, after an invitation was extended to Dr. Reed, to speak to the DSA Chapter during a Zoom call meeting, outrage within the Chapter caused the invitation to be withdrawn. The title of The Times' article, which is worth reading if you can slip past the paywall, was "A Marxist's Views on Race and Class Expose a Rift Among Socialists."

Let's be clear that it's not just those "Marxist" types who refuse to talk to people with whom they disagree - or with whom they think they will disagree. I know from some personal experience that people who think that they will disagree with me, or that I will disagree with them, don't want to risk including me in any conversation about the desirability of using masks during the coronavirus crisis. 


Frequent readers of these blog postings will probably remember the formula that I suggest is the best way to think about how our government works - or should work: 

Politics > Law > Government

We govern ourselves by following various "laws," or "rules," which tell us what we have decided we should do. "Law," however, is never preordained. "Law" is the product of "Politics," which requires robust debate and discussion, as we collectively try to figure out the best rule to make for ourselves. Without that discussion, without that conflict, controversy, and compromise, we are not - collectively - engaging in the process we call "democratic self-government," because that process requires that we all be involved. A group that doesn't want to discuss differences, and different approaches, may not even realize it, but such a group really just wants to impose its ideas on everyone else. That is not the "democratic" way.

Groups involved in "politics" that try to silence or discount persons with whom the group disagrees (or persons with whom the group thinks it will disagree) is opting for a profoundly anti-democratic approach to government. 

When we disagree, and when we think we might disagree, here's the right response: 

Let's Talk About It

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

#260 / Five Guys

There used to be a Five Guys hamburger place in Santa Cruz. It was at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Cathcart, right downtown near the Del Mar Theatre. I never ate there, since I had moved beyond hamburger a few years before the Five Guys restaurant showed up. I do remember hearing, though, that the burgers were really good. I always liked the name, too, "Five Guys." Five is my favorite number. Maybe that's the reason. 

At any rate, I realized just the other day, as I was working in my home office, that I have my own "Five Guys," upon whom I know I can rely for good advice and counsel whenever I find myself in need of that. 

Most days, in other words. 

The "Five Guys" that I am talking about are found in pictures, hanging on my office walls. One of those pictures is immediately below, a 2001 pastel portrait of my father, Philips B. Patton. My father's advice is probably not too accessible to those who may be reading this, though I can refer you to an earlier blog posting, titled "Father's Day Stories." My father's basic teaching, outlined there, was that "anything is possible." I have come to believe it - though not without a struggle, I can assure you. Another one of my father's admonitions has also struck me as good advice: "If you don't have a dream, Gary, you can never have a dream come true."

The teachings of the other authorities upon whom I regularly rely, all of whom are also pictured on my office walls, are much more accessible to the general reader. I am hoping you know who is pictured below, and how to access the Sermon on the Mount. Or, you can try The Jefferson Bible, if you'd like to read a little bit more.

The three others included in my "Five Guys" line up are all on one wall, above my desk, as you can see from the photograph below:

Bob Dylan's website (not to mention YouTube) provides an easy access to what Bob Dylan has to say. It is not a coincidence, I think, that Dylan has a rather powerful song specifically calling out three of my "Five Guys" for special recognition: Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Click here to listen. Click here for the words. "They Killed Him" is the name of the song.

Guidance from Martin Luther King, Jr., and from Gandhi, can be found with no trouble at all. Just click those links to get started. However, you might want to order yourself a poster for your own personal use. I think that would be a pretty good investment. When I start thinking about the social, political, and economic topics on which Gandhi and King have advice worth considering (in other words, when I am thinking about almost any such topic), I always start by looking at those posters on my wall. Here they are in a close up view, making it easier to read the words:


I always liked that name, "Five Guys," and the five guys on the walls of my office provide me with what I think is some particularly good guidance - appropriate guidance for all of us seeking to live a good and meaningful life.

Please feel free to follow up with any one of them!

Image Credits:
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(2) - (4) Gary Patton personal photos
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Tuesday, September 15, 2020

#259 / The Privilege Of Our Participation

Every morning, I read five newspapers - all in hard copy. I have signed up for innumerable newsletters, magazines, and bulletins of all kinds, and I scan them online. I consider it a privilege to learn what is happening in the world, and to find out what people are thinking and doing. 

Am I alone in believing that it is a privilege to be so connected to the world? I don't think I am. Knowing about the world, and thinking about it, is one kind of participation in the human project, and at some level I believe that we all know that, and are grateful for the fact that each one of us is engaged with the world. 

What is our right relationship to the world we read about, and that we witness all around us? At least for me, "the news" is an evidence of both promise and possibility. It is a privilege to participate in the world simply by recognizing my connection to the realities I observe. 

It is a privilege, too, to help create those realities ourselves, and to realize that we can do that. 

As I read "the news," I find out that it is people just like me who are creating all the infuriating and inspiring glories of our human life. This is the greatest privilege of all, to recognize and realize that we are all part of the world that human beings have created, and that we create again each day. 

Each one of us, alive, is privileged not only to participate by way of observation, but by acting, too, both individually and collectively. 

This world we are so privileged to read about is the world we make, ourselves!

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Monday, September 14, 2020

#258 / She's Going To Blow

On July 15, 2020, The New York Times wrote about Mossy Kilcher. who is pictured above in a contemporary photo. Kilcher is from a pioneer family, and grew up on a homestead in the wilds of Alaska. She is now seventy-eight years old. Kilcher made an album of songs about Alaksa in 1977, which she entitled, "Northwind Calling."

It appears that a few copies of that original CD may still be available - at least, that was the situation on the date The Times' story ran. A number of Kilcher's songs from the album are definitely available on YouTube. I have included a link to "Going To Blow," as one sample:

Mossy Kilcher is now ready to release forty new songs - all about Alaska - produced by her niece Jewel Kilcher, who is, herself, a celebrated singer-songwriter, musician, producer, actress, author, and poet.

In her first memory, Mossy Kilcher, then 3 years old, is standing on a windswept Alaskan beach in 1945, holding her father’s hand as thundering waves crash at their feet. 
Surrounded by rugged cliffs and the seemingly endless expanse of Kachemak Bay, she realizes for the first time that any of this can kill her ...  
Kilcher’s father, Yule, had fled Switzerland and World War II to start a communal utopia on the United States’ wilderness frontier with his wife, Ruth, an aspiring opera singer. Mossy (born Mairiis), the oldest of their eight children, remembered being terrified by the rugged terrain of their 160-acre spread that day. Then she heard the long-tailed duck’s affirming song. 
In the 75 years since Kilcher first heard that call, integrating with and observing the Alaskan wilderness — and becoming its international emissary — have become her life’s work. In the 1970s, she helped build an intentional community near Anchorage and fought to protect the state’s splendor as the oil industry encroached. Since the ’80s, she has owned Seaside Farm, where she guided guests on dayslong horseback trips for a dozen years. She has obsessively documented the songs of the state’s bountiful birds, donating her archive to the ornithological library at Cornell University and lecturing about them at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo.

I thought the story about Kilcher was pretty extraordinary, and I encourage anyone reading this blog posting to track it down, and to read it in its entirety. This may or may not be easy, depending on how The Times' paywall protection may affect that effort. 

I wanted to mention the story on this blog because of the statement below, a quotation from The Times' story. As I look ahead, I am pretty sure that things are "going to blow," meaning that we are facing a fierce storm approaching in the years just ahead. 

The Natural World can definitely kill us, so what Kilcher says she realized at the age of three we need to remember now:

Kilcher’s songs rest on the realization she’d had at 3 — that, to survive, she’d need to cooperate with nature, not conquer it, an empathy often at odds with the pioneer mentality. She sang of prowling coyotes and migrating birds like trusted friends. “The land was here before us; it is indigenous,” she said. “You learn to live with your environment. It doesn’t have to be a big struggle.” (emphasis added)

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Sunday, September 13, 2020

#257 / Hamilton, Arendt, And All Of Us

Lin-Manuel Miranda (to the left, above), was inspired by Alexander Hamilton, the 2004 biography by Ron Chernow. I, too, was inspired by Chernow's book, all 730 pages of it, not counting notes and the index. 

"Hamilton," the musical that Miranda wrote after reading Chernow's book, is superlative. I have already recommended it. Miranda's musical tour de force is available on Disney+, in the form of a film, with the original Broadway cast, in the original Broadway theatre. As I say, it is superlative. Let me recommend it again!

I am also going to suggest that you might want to read Alexander Hamilton, the book. Alexander Hamilton, above and to the right, played a formative role in the creation of the United States of America, and that history is well worth revisiting. 

Not long ago, I put in a pitch for history in general. Chernow's book is a great example of how an understanding of our past can be revealing of our present. If you think that there is something new and unprecedented in our current political life, dominated by vicious political slanders and partisan allegiences, Alexander Hamilton will set you straight. Things were at least as bad then, as now. It is fun to read about it, in a way, and to  compare the situation in Hamilton's time with our present day situation, and to agonize about whether our nation will survive our present political polarization as the nation survived the violent political polarization and partisanship of the 1790s. Reading the history does allow one to see that the nation has managed to surmount a profoundly diseased and disastrous politics before. We have some good reason to think that we can do that again!


Right after reading Chernow's book, I came across an essay by Roger Berkowitz, the Academic Director of The Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College. As regular readers of this blog know, I am a great admirer of Hannah Arendt, and I particularly love her book On Revolution. That book gives pretty good grades to the American Revolution, without exonerating the nation for its foundational racism, and for the "original sin" of its commitment to slavery and the extirpation of Native Americans. 

Berkowitz' essay, which I came upon by chance, turns out to be Chapter One of a book entitled, Artifacts of Thinking: Reading Hannah Arendt's Denktagebuch. If that sounds pretty "academic," it is, but that first chapter I read has a title without any German words at all, and it also has something important to say. That Chapter One is called: "Reconciling Oneself to the Impossibility of Reconciliation." 

Political "reconciliation" is exactly what the United States was having a hard time achieving, during the last part of the life of Alexander Hamilton. Political "reconciliation" is in pretty short supply today, too. If there is a way to "reconcile oneself to the impossibility of reconciliation" it would be good to figure out how. 

The Berkowitz article outlines Arendt's formula. She says that we must realize that we do not agree, that we have different ideas, and that some of us have done evil and terrible things. Then, after recognizing these actual facts, and not trying to deny them, or to pretend that they don't exist, we must decide that we will "love the world" anyway. 

The challenge of reconciliation is to love the world as it is, that is, as potentially irreconcilable and inclusive of evil. It is well known that Arendt considered calling the book that would become The Human Condition by the title Amor Mundi - For the Love of the World. In 1955, there are at least three entries in the Denktagebuch dedicated to Amor Mundi. The first asks simply: "Amor Mundi - Why is it so difficult to love the world?" The answer is clear enough: anti-Semitism, racism, totalitarianism, poverty, corruption, and a feeling of utter powerlessness to make change. What reconciliation and understanding require is a commitment to politics and plurality that can come about only through a dedication to the world as it is.

The title under which I write these blog postings, "We Live In A Political World," does assert that we must commit ourselves to "politics," and to the conflict and controversy that arises precisely because of the "plurality" that is the inevitable definition of our human situation. We are different. VERY different, with different backgrounds, ideas, and aspirations, and yet we are in this world together. Only a dedication to politics, as a means and mechanism to reconcile our "irreconcilable differences," can make it possible for us to defeat the very evils that make it so hard for us to enter into the love of this world. This world, our human world, is a political world, and that means that we must engage in the political debate, discussion, controversy, conflict, and compromise by which we can, in fact, "reconcile the irreconcilable." 

From Hamilton's time to our own, the situation has remained the same. But now, the stakes are higher. Anyone who is paying attention knows that we must come to love this world, with all its contradictions and differences, in all its plurality, and find ways to overcome our differences together. If we don't....

If we can't be reconciled - or if, more properly, we don't choose to be reconciled - then we aren't going to have a world to love, because our human world will be burned, buried, flooded, and bombed, and we will kill ourselves all in the name of the differences we claim are irreconcilable.

When they are not.

Reconciliation is the task that is set before us all. It is the "political" work in which we all must be engaged. And it is right now that we must learn to love this world, and to love its plurality more than we treasure up our differences. To be reconciled with one another we must recognize and admit all the differences that divide us; we must acknowledge and recognize the facts of past evil deeds, whose impact continues into this present time; we must decide to overcome our repugnance and revulsion at the differences between us, and to recognize and be reconciled to what we share in common, our common world. 

This world into which we have been so mysteriously born!

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Saturday, September 12, 2020

#256 / Old Age (And Page)

Pictured above is Page Smith, who was directly responsible for helping to make the University of California, Santa Cruz into a powerfully impactful institution of higher education. In saying this, I am speaking specifically of the university's early years. Smith was the founding Provost of Cowell College, the first college established on the Santa Cruz campus. Click the link to Page's name, above, for a very nice tribute by John Dizikes, another faculty member who helped make UCSC, in its early years, into a truly unique place to study and to learn. If you would like to review the Wikipedia entry for Page Smith, here is the link to click

I was fortunate to know Page Smith personally, and other than The Chicken Book, which I never did read, I pretty much read everything he wrote - at least I thought I did. I even read his A Letter From My FatherThe Strange, Intimate Correspondence of W. Ward Smith to His Son Page Smith." This is a book that is probably filed under "biography," though "erotica" might be more accurate. Page's writings include quite a few books - mosttly about American history. Check the link to the Wikipedia entry for what turns out to be a "partial list." I thought I had read all of Page's major books until I chanced upon one I had never heard of, as I visited one of those "Little Free Libraries" that I have mentioned before

Wikipedia, which doesn't list it, would probably be as surprised as I was when I came across the following little book:

Naturally, particularly since the price was right, I promptly commandeered Old Age Is Another Country: A Traveler's Guide, and took it home with me. I am very glad I did. I am definitely in that "Old Age" country right now, but I can unreservedly recommend the book to you, whatever your age. It is not aimed only at the "old." 

In Page's book, he goes out of his way to denounce "retirement." I am with him on that, and didn't need his book to tell me that going on cruises and playing golf is not the best way (at least for me, as for Page) to realize the joys of being alive.

I liked the jokes that Page included in his book. This one, for instance:

An old man sees an old friend sitting on a park bench, weeping. He greets him and, somewhat embarrassed, asks him how things have been with him. "Wonderful, wonderful," the old man says through his sobs. "I inherited a fortune, I bought a beautiful apartment and married a lovely, sexy young woman."
"Then why are you weeping?" his friend asks.
"I can't remember where I live." 

Page urges, in his book, as one of the central themes of A Traveler's Guide, that with age comes wisdom. At least, Page claims, there is a lot more wisdom in what older people know than is often acknowledged. I gather he was trying to console his older readers (and himself) with that observation; however, I do think he is right!

Page ends his book with a section entitled, "Joy and Love Are the Answers," and the very last lines of the book (found on page 225) quote Robert Browning's "Love Among the Ruins."

Oh heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
Earth returns
For who centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in!
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest
Love is best.

Old age knows that.


Image Credits: 
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Friday, September 11, 2020

#255 / Asylum

Behrouz Boochani
The New York Times Magazine published a story about Behrouz Boochani on Sunday, August 9, 2020. It is a powerful article, and I certainly encourage those who can get access to the article to read it. 

Boochani fled Iran and sought asylum in Australia. The Times' article documents how Boochani was treated. He was, in fact, imprisoned and tortured, along with thousands of others who sought safety and asylum in Australia. 

Boochani received the same kind of treatment in Australia, in other words, that those who have fled to the United States from Central America and Mexico have been receiving in our country. What is different about Boochani's story is that he wrote a book about his treatment, pecked out on a forbidden cellphone that he hid from the authorities in the camp in which he was detained. Boochani's book is called, No Friend But The Mountains. It is an extraordinary story.

I believe that we would be wise to study up on asylum, and to understand our obligation to grant asylum to those fleeing from persecution in other countries. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States signed at the end of World War II, provides the following: 

Article 14.
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

"Climate refugees" will almost certainly grow in number in the years ahead. The number of those feeling from religious and governmental persecution will likely grow as well. We need to be ready.

Ready not with prison camps and cages, but with homes, jobs, and support.

Let us recognize, please, that our ability truly to provide asylum to those feeling from life-threatening circumstances is not only an obligation, but an opportunity. 

We must be sure we don't waste it.

Image Credits:
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Thursday, September 10, 2020

#254 / PTF

This Fall Quarter, I will be teaching LGST 196, a Legal Studies Capstone course at the University of California, Santa Cruz. The theme of the course, as I teach it, is "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom." 

The image above is featured on the website that will help students navigate this online course. It seems to capture, at least for me, the temptations that technology offers, with both privacy and freedom at risk.

Hopefully, you (and those students) will know what I am talking about!

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

#253 / You Know What I'm Talking About

Identity Politics_____________________

Identity politics is a term that describes a political approach wherein people of a particular religion, race, social background, class or other identifying factor form exclusive socio-political alliances, moving away from broad-based, coalitional politics to support and follow political movements that share a particular identifying quality with them. Its aim is to support and center the concerns, agendas, and projects of particular groups, in accord with specific social and political changes.


"Identity Politics," as defined above by Wikipedia, has become a political issue in and of itself. The term is often used in a pejorative sense, generally to denigrate social and political movements that are characterized as "left-wing," or "woke." The actual "identity politics" phenomenon, however, seems to work on an equal opportunity basis, across all our ideological spectra. A New York Times article published on September 7, 2020, for instance, reported on our president's pledge to eliminate racial sensitivity training, which the president identified as a manifestation of "identity politics." This kind of "identity politics," the president said, "is a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue.”

So the president may claim, but as The Times article nicely points out, even as the president was complaining about "identity politics," he was practicing it himself: 

Presenting himself as a warrior against identity politics, the president has increasingly made appeals to the grievances of white supporters a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.

My personal belief is that "identity politics" is a dangerous kind of politics, from whichever "side" it's practiced, because "identity politics" assumes that political, social, racial, and economic divisions are the inevitable truth about how we must relate to one another. Since we are, as I continually point out, "in this together," a politics that is based on division, instead of a politics that tries to find ways to have us all "pull together," is ultimately self-defeating. Again, ultimately, we are in this life together, and only as we recognize this can we ever find ways to overcome the daunting challenges before us, and to realize the splendid opportunities that we can precipitate into the reality of our human world, by human action.

"Identity politics," in a more profound way, also misses the essential and existential truth about who we are, as individuals - each one of us unique and precious, defined by no category at all. 

My favorite song on Bob Dylan's most recent album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, is called, "Mother of Muses." I am including a link to the music below, so those who aren't familiar with this song can hear Bob Dylan sing it. But there is one verse that I particularly like, which gives us Bob Dylan's response to our contemporary concern about "identity politics." 

Mother of Muses unleash your wrath
Things I can’t see - they’re blocking my path
Show me your wisdom - tell me my fate
Put me upright - make me walk straight
Forge my identity from the inside out
You know what I’m talking about

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Tuesday, September 8, 2020

#252 / Evidence-Free Politics

Pictured above is Aleksei A. Navalny. Navalny is a Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist, who has been outspoken in his criticism of Vladimir Putin, the current President of Russia. This picture was taken during better times for Navalny. It shows him at a campaign rally in Moscow, last summer. Today, Navalny is fighting for his life in a German hospital, having, apparently, been poisoned by Russian agents.

Of course, Russian officials dispute that, suggesting, even, that Navalny may well have "poisoned himself."

You can read about this case in "The Spin From Moscow," which is an article published on September 4, 2020, in The New York Times. Of course, to read the article online you will have to penetrate The Times' paywall. If you do, you will find the following two paragraphs, which attracted my attention when I read the article in the hard copy edition:

To Russian officials and commentators on state news media, anxious to deny any Kremlin role and [to] offer a wide range of alternative theories, the Germans had poisoned Mr. Navalny, or he had poisoned himself, or he was not poisoned at all. 
Though dismissed by critics of the Russian government as dust thrown up to cover the truth, such flurries of evidence-free theories have become a standard response to accusations of Moscow’s malfeasance, whether it is election meddling, military interventions, assassinations or the repression of the domestic opposition (emphasis added).

Our own politics, as I presume everyone recognizes, is also plagued with "evidence-free" theories in abundance, all of them intended to advance one or another political agenda. To cite to that September 4, 2020, edition of The Times, for example, consider its front-page story, "Trump's Trusted Ploy: Spreading Distrust." The article documents the many "evidence-free" explanations that our current president has advanced to defend himself from criticism, or to attack others. 

There are many newspaper and magazine articles about this phenomenon. It is an acknowledged characteristic of our contemporary politics that "conspiracy theories," and claims with no evidence to support them whatsoever, are now regularly discussed as though they were presenting new insights into what is "really" going on. 

An opinion column that also appeared in The Times last Friday, by economist Paul Krugman, was titled, "Trump and the Attack of the Invisible Anarchists." As Krugman tries to contrast reality with "evidence-free" claims about what is actually real, propogated by our current president, he talks about one of his recent walks across town in Manhattan: 

On Thursday morning I walked across much of Manhattan and back again. (Why are all the doctors’ offices on the East Side?) It was a beautiful day, and the city looked cheerful: Shops were open, people were drinking coffee in the sidewalk seating areas that have proliferated during the pandemic, Central Park was full of joggers and cyclists. 
But I must have been imagining all that, because Donald Trump assures me that New York is beset by “anarchy, violence and destruction.”

It is easy to think that the delusions and extravagant claims that our current president is trying to palm off as truth are something that we can laugh at and then dismiss. Let's not succumb to that temptation, or trivialize efforts to inject "evidence-free" claims into our political life. When politicians routinely start trying to get us to accept "evidence-free" assertions, it is no laughing matter, and I am sure Aleksei Navalny would agree. 

Democratic self-government cannot survive unless we demand, in our debate and discussion, that claims and assertions be tethered tightly to facts, to evidence, and to "the truth." If we don't demand and insist on an effort to base our decisions on "truth," making that search for "truth" a prerequisite in political discussion, then "power" will end up being the only test of what will be done. 

It is not always easy to get at the "truth." In fact, we may never get there, in any ultimate sense. However, getting to "the truth" is what we must insist upon, and what we should all be trying to do. To find "truth," and especially to get others to recognize it, we must sift, survey, and examine the "evidence." The "evidence" may be contradictory, and claims to know "the truth" are always suspect. However, claims to have identified "the truth" or "reality" are never more suspect then when they are based on "evidence-free" statements. Claims of that kind are, as we ought to recognize, evidence in and of themselves that the assertion is without merit. You don't have to be a "scientist" to demand that there be some demonstration, by way of evidence, that a claimed reality or truth actually exists. 

There is a type of politics that says that since it is almost impossible to know "the truth," in any ultimate sense, "the truth" doesn't really matter. You probably remember Pontius Pilate. His famous question, "What is truth?" was Pilate's claim that he shouldn't even try to find out. The reputation of Pontius Pilate is not good - and for a very good reason. We may be mistaken about it, but we need to seek, always, to find what is "true," and what is "real." 

People (and politicians) make mistakes and misstatements all the time. They are sometimes (and perhaps often) "wrong" about what is "true" and what is "real."

However, we need to beware of any politician, political movement, or political party that thinks that "truth" doesn't matter, and that "evidence-free" assertions are acceptable. 

Heads up, folks! That's where we are, right now.

Let's not crucify our system of democratic self-governent on an "evidence-free" cross!

Pontius Pilate

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Monday, September 7, 2020

#251 / Highlander

One Nation, Indivisible

Rosa Parks was prepared for that day, December 1, 1955, on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She had gone to the Highlander Folk School, where Martin Luther King Jr. learned nonviolence. She was the secretary of the NAACP in her community. But at the moment she refused to move to the back of the bus, as blacks were required to do, she had no assurance that the theory would work, that the strategy would succeed, nor that her friends would be there with her in the aftermath of that decision. It was a lonely choice made in isolation, but it helped to change the lay and the law of the land.
I’ve often asked myself how people find the courage to make a decision like that, when they know that the power of the institution is going to come down on their heads, when it could easily lead to loss of status, loss of reputation, loss of income, job, friends, and perhaps even meaning. The answer comes from studying the lives of the Rosa Parkses and the Václav Havels and the Nelson Mandelas and the Dorothy Days of this world. These are people who understand that no punishment that anybody could lay on us could possibly be worse than the punishment we lay on ourselves by conspiring in our own diminishment, by living a divided life, by acting and speaking on the outside in ways not consonant with what we know to be true on the inside.
The Grace of Great Things
Parker J. Palmer, September 1998


The text above comes from a 1998 issue of The Sun magazine, recently reprinted in the February 2020, issue. The Sun's "One Nation, Indivisible" section collects and reprints excerpts from past editions that seem to have continuing relevance. The quote above certainly does seem to have such continuing relevance, at least to me.

The Highlander Research and Education Center was (and is) a "school" for activists. I believe, if we want to have a chance to reverse the current momentum towards the apocalypse, that we need many more such academies teaching effective activism - and particularly "non-violent" activism. During the Vietnam War, "teach-ins" helped provide both the intellectual analysis and and practical advice that was needed to mobilize the country against the war.

Today, we need to "go to school" on global warming, climate change, and the political tactics and actions that can prevent what will certainly otherwise happen.

Let Rosa Parks, and the Highlander School, inspire us now.

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Sunday, September 6, 2020

#250 / Listen To Camus

Marjorie Taylor Green, Republican Candidate For Congress in Georgia.

Roger Cohen, a New York Times columnist, is battling the coronavirus. Cohen revealed this yesterday, in his column in The Times. It is clear to me, from reading the column, that this is not turning out to be an easy struggle. Cohen is putting a brave face forward, but the way I read his column, he has no certainty that he will beat off the contagion and survive: 

The virus is deadly serious but plays games. A little relief to tempt you into activity — then it smites you with a cudgel. I felt better last weekend until I tried a peach tart. It’s eerie to experience texture without taste. A Coke with ice and lemon was no more than fizz. My body was a stranger. It was out there somewhere, fighting. The fight demanded all its energy. There was nothing left for me.

Amidst his description of his own, private battle, Cohen talks about what he sees as another plague, one that has infected our political, social, and economic life, a plague that has penetrated deep within our body politic. In talking about that plague, Cohen quotes Albert Camus

I stared at the walls. I thought, my world is gone. More than half a life lived in the Cold War, who cares about that any longer, or the values it bequeathed. A phrase of Albert Camus came back to me: “The most incorrigible vice being that of ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.”

Cohen's Saturday column was still in my mind as I read a recent Associated Press story titled, "Georgia congressional candidate's post removed for inciting violence." The image that accompanied the article, which appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, is shown above. 

Listen to Camus, says Cohen. Listen to the Bible: "Thou shalt not kill." 

A politics that promotes and exaults in violence and killing is deeply infected. Let us cleanse ourselves of this contagion!

And NOT by violence against the "other side," whatever "side" you're on!

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Saturday, September 5, 2020

#249 / Beguiling The Butterfly Of Change

I like the image above. It accompanied a long article in the "Review" section of The Wall Street Journal, published in the February 22 - 23 edition. The article, by Jonah Berger, was titled, "How to Change Anyone's Mind." The advice contained in the article reminded me of one of my own blog posts, "What I Learned From An English Teacher," published in February. That blog post was all about the wisdom of making concessions - but only to strengthen your own argument. 

Here are a few excerpts from Berger's article (since the entire article may be paywall protected): 

When trying to change minds, organizations or even the world, we often default to a particular approach: pushing. Boss not listening to that new idea? Send them another PowerPoint deck. Client isn’t buying the pitch? Remind them of all the benefits. When people are asked how they’ve tried to change someone’s mind, my own research finds that the overwhelming majority of the answers focus on some version of pushing.

The intuition behind this approach comes from physics. If you’re trying to move a chair, for example, pushing usually works. Push it in one direction and it tends to go that way. Unfortunately, people and organizations aren’t like chairs; they often push back.

It helps to look to chemistry, where there’s a proven way to make change happen fast: Add a catalyst. Catalysts convert air into fertilizer and petroleum into bike helmets. But most intriguing is the way they generate change. Instead of adding heat or pressure, they provide an alternate route, reducing the amount of energy required for reactions to occur. Rather than pushing, they remove barriers.

Again and again, the same approaches emerged. Instead of giving people more facts, figures or reasons, smart change agents find the hidden obstacles preventing change and mitigate them. Instead of asking what might convince someone to change, catalysts start with more basic questions: Why haven’t they changed already? What’s stopping them?

People like to feel like they’re in control—in the drivers’ seat. When we try to get them to do something, they feel disempowered. Rather than feeling like they made the choice, they feel like we made it for them. So they say no or do something else, even when they might have originally been happy to go along. Psychologists call this negative response “reactance.” Decades of consumer behavior research shows that people have an innate anti-persuasion radar. They’re constantly scanning the environment for attempts to influence them, and when they detect one, they deploy a set of countermeasures.

Berger says that people tend to be "over-attached" to the status quo, so those wishing to stimulate change need to make the cost of the current situation clear. Berger also recommends that those advocating for change propose gradual change. He says those wanting to motivate change also need to reduce the risk, and that there needs to be a lot of corroborating evidence that a change would be positive, and that providing that kind of evidence is vital in efforts to induce people to change. 

Berger's conclusion and bottom line is simple, and he makes an extravagant claim as he states it - the same claim he made in the title to his article: you can change "anyone's" mind:

It’s not about pushing harder or exerting more energy. It’s about reducing barriers to action. Once you understand that, you can change anything.

I think that fundamental changes absolutely must be made in the way we organize and operate our politics, our economy, and our social relationships. Because I do believe that so strongly, I put a real priority on working for change. Because I do believe that change is such an urgent necessity, my first instinct is to "push." Maybe, though, I need to think about this need to "push" in a different way. Maybe we need to focus most on pushing ourselves, so we never decide that we can give up on the need for change. If we do that, and never stop pushing ourselves, we may be able to stop trying so hard to push others, and can then use some of Berger's observations and techniques to help others make the changes that we know are so absolutely necessary.

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Friday, September 4, 2020

#248 / Curtailing My Coverage

If you are reading this blog posting, you are probably aware that I make one such blog posting every day. I have done that for about ten years. According to Blogger, which is the platform on which these postings are produced, I have published over 3,900 individual items.

Essentially, my blog is how I "think out loud" about issues that strike me as important, and these are mostly issues with some sort of relationship to "politics," and government, and to the human, "political" world in which we most immediately live. This is consistent, of course, with the title of my blog, "We Live In A Political World."

Anyone who is interested in keeping up with my postings can "subscribe" to my blog. To subscribe, a person must first make sure to access the blog in its original location on my personal website, found at Once there, utilize the "Follow By Email" box at the upper left corner of the blog. Fill in your email address and hit the "Submit" button. Then, if all works as it is supposed to, you will get a daily copy of my blog posting, sent to you in an email. The emails sent out have a link to the website where the original copy of the blog appears. Those who do subscribe are encouraged to click the "title" of the blog posting when they get their daily email. The title is always in blue. It is, in fact, a link that will direct you to the website, where you can read the posting in its original format. 

Naturally, I do like people to read what I write - even though I am writing mainly just to make myself think about issues of importance. Since I do like people to see my thoughts - and even to comment on them - I republish my blog postings on my Facebook Timeline, to give them a greater distribution, since I do have something like 3,500 "Facebook Friends."

While I believe that there are lots of good reasons to be critical of Facebook, I find it useful. I use that platform to provide links to articles, videos, and other items that I think are worth thinking and talking about - and that does include my own blog postings. I do not, generally, provide videos or pictures of pets, or the food I'm eating, or depict everything that my wonderful grandkids are doing. Nor do I use Facebook to engage in extended and vituperative debates. Among other things, I often use Facebook to pass along cartoons that I like. Again, when I do that, these cartoons usually have some sort of "political" point to advance. The cartoons pictured at the top of this blog posting are examples of what I would typically post on Facebook. 

Just the other day, in fact, I was getting ready to post one or both of those cartoons on Facebook,  but then I thought about it! As I recently wrote in this blog, I am quite concerned about the upcoming election, and about the possible reelection of our current president, and I have come to the conclusion that focusing all of our attention on what is wrong with Donald Trump, and the Trump Administration, is not the best strategy to support the election of Joe Biden and Democratic Party candidates.

Quite the contrary, in fact. I think that those who want to replace Donald Trump as president (and I am raising my hand, right here) should be talking less "negatively" and more "positivdely." We need to try to focus on what we need to do, collectively, to confront the immense challenges ahead, and how we can, together, start making more progress towards racial and economic justice, take action to help eliminate war and violence as our chosen response to problems, and how we can reconfigure our relationship to the World of Nature so that human civilization has a chance to survive. 

Documenting, fact checking, and making fun of the multiple outrages perpetrated by and related to our current president is "easy pickings." That is, of course, what these cartoons are doing. I started thinking, as I was about to put those cartoons on my Facebook page, that focusing our political discussion on what's wrong with Donald Trump actually just elevates his importance, and may actually help him win the upcoming election. 

Thus, I have decided that I am going to have to curtail my coverage of cartoons like the ones above - at least until the election is over. All of us, and Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Democratic Party candidates at every level, should be talking affirmatively about what we can do, together, to meet the challenges ahead, and to realize the wonderful opportunities that also beckon.

I know that's a tough prescription. How can we take our eyes off that very watchable guy in the White House, who baits us every day? It's hard, I know, not to focus on all the wrong things that our president is saying and doing, but I am going to try to do it!

"Keep your eyes on the prize" is how we sang it during the Civil Rights Movement. Let's elevate our sights! 

And then there is Bob Dylan, of course, who almost always has something relevant to say. Let me refer you to "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." Dylan warns us not to get down in the hole with the worst of the worst. 

That's good advice. It's still a song for our times!

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