Monday, April 22, 2019

#112 / What A Guy!



Last Saturday, Guy McPherson (pictured) came to my home town, Santa Cruz, California. He spoke at the Resource Center for Nonviolence, and his topic was advertised as "Abrupt Climate Change." Dr. McPherson's message was not a hopeful one. In fact, I think it is fair to say that McPherson is against any expression of "hope" when we consider global warming and climate change. It is McPherson's view that there is no hope for us, and that there is nothing we can do, at this point, to prevent the complete extinction of the human race.

McPherson says that it would be wrong for a doctor to tell a patient with a terminal disease that there may be "hope." That would be a lie. It isn't going to help. Similarly, it would be wrong for anyone who has studied the issue of climate change to tell people that there is any "hope" that we can do anything that will prevent the total extinction of all life on this planet, including, specifically, the extinction of human life. McPherson sees his job as trying to establish a "Planetary Hospice," to bring comfort to all of us during these last few years of our lives, which may well be over by 2030. If you click this link you will be able to read an article that makes the argument.

There was some reluctance in the audience to hear this message of absolute hopelessness. For instance, consternation was expressed when Dr. McPherson said that reducing the use of fossil fuels, which are putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, will not actually help us at all. It turns out, he says, that the particulates released by the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels (he called them aerosols) actually help reflect sunlight, and thus reduce global warming. Reducing hydrocarbon emissions will reduce the creation of those aerosols and thus actually speed up global warming, even though the emission of greenhouse gases may be reduced. As Dr. McPherson put it, where the burning of fossil fuels is concerned, "we are damned if we do; we are damned if we don't."

The part of Dr. McPherson's presentation that I liked best was a brief video illustrating the power of the exponential function. From 1975 to 1995, as I worked on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors to fight the unconstrained growth then occurring in Santa Cruz County (and considered to be inevitable, by the way), I talked a lot about exponential growth. I referred to a great presentation by UCSC Emeritus Professor Peter Scott, "the bug in the bottle." Click on the link to read a blog posting of mine from 2010, summarizing Dr. Scott's illuminating discussion of the exponential function. My blog post mentions greenhouse gas emissions, incidentally.

The video that Dr. McPherson played takes a somewhat different tack, and is well worth watching. It makes the point very well. Once we put processes in motion that are governed by an exponential function, things can quickly get out of hand. The following video makes the point: 


So, are things out of hand where global warming and climate change are concerned? I think so! I am not sold on the idea, however, that the best thing we can all do right now is to drop any effort to reduce our human contributions to global warming, and to turn the entire world into a "Planetary Hospice," so we can all take our time to give a proper goodbye to all those persons, places, and things we love. That is what Dr. McPherson is prescribing. 

I prefer the prescription suggested by the School Strike 4 Climate and the Extinction Rebellion (both mentioned in my blog post yesterday). Whatever the future may be - and we should remember that "the future's not ours to see" (que sera, sera) - human activity aimed at revolutionary change will be a lot more satisfying than McPherson's admonition to get into "hospice mode," and to forget about preventing human extinction. 

I do agree with Dr. McPherson that we should face the facts. I like what that Extinction Rebellion "Pink Boat" says: "Tell the Truth."

I we do tell ourselves the truth, we will not indulge in any false hopes that there isn't a deadly exponential process underway. We should acknowledge that the extincton of human life (and all life) is a real possibility. All that is true. However, without any false hopes whatsoever, it might actually be possible for us to change what we are doing in a way that could end up helping to reduce the coming age of climate change difficulties and disasters. 

I am not ready, personally, to go into a planetary version of "hospice care." I prefer the idea that we ought to give revolutionary, nonviolent change a chance. 

Let's see what "Extinction Rebellion" can accomplish.

It's worth a try! 


Image Credit:
https://weeklyhubris.com/how-we-live-how-we-die/

Sunday, April 21, 2019

#111 / XR



The picture above shows a protest in London, on April 19th. The headline on the article reads: "Police Turn Pirates: The Pink Boat is Lost." What you don't see in this picture is the huge crowd surrounding the boat. To get that view, click on the link!

Extinction Rebellion, a worldwide, nonviolent movement, sometimes called XR, consists of a popular mobilization against the continued failure of elected governments, almost everywhere, to confront the global warming crisis. The School Strike 4 Climate is doing much the same thing.

Let me suggest that Americans, in particular, should understand and support this movement as truly "revolutionary," since it is based on exactly the same concerns that motivated the American Revolution. Consider these words from our Declaration of Independence (emphasis added):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Governments around the world, including the United States government, have preserved and protected the powers of giant corporations (particularly the oil companies) as these corporations continue to plunder the Earth, and to undermine the stability of the Natural World that sustains all life. This behavior is, indubitably, "destructive." There is no question but that the activities of these corporations, and the actions of the governments that protect them, are a direct threat to both "safety and happiness."

In fact, the continued existence of human civilization has been put in peril by our collective failure to stop the use of fossil fuels. A continued commitment to the existing order, based on the use of fossil fuels, is leading to planetary level extinctions, and this conduct represents an absolute threat the continued viability of our human world. At some point, long suffering must come to an end, and governments that fail to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must be replaced by governments that will.

Extinction Rebellion and the School Strike for Climate say that this moment has arrived.

In my judgment, "Telling The Truth" is always the first obligation of those who claim to be acting in the public interest. That pink boat may have been sequestered by the police, but the truth, itself, can never be "lost" as long as ordinary men and women are willing to testify to the truth, and to act  and to insist upon it.

Gandhi's nonviolent revolution was premised on that simple precept. "Clinging to the truth" can change the world!

Image Credit
https://rebellion.earth/2019/04/20/update-5-police-turn-pirates-the-pink-boat-is-lost/

Saturday, April 20, 2019

#110 / Despising One Another



A new book says that Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity have a lot in common. To quote the author: 

The two characters do exactly the same work. They make their money using exactly the same commercial formula. And though they emphasize different political ideas, the effect they have on audiences is much the same. 

If we are concerned about the phenomenon that Leonard Pitts, Jr talked about in his recent column - the column I mentioned in my blog post on Tuesday, April 16th - then what Matt Taibbi says in this book is worth thinking about. "Despising one another" is not a viable way forward!

I think that the Roger Berkowitz commentary from Amor Mundi, the weekly blog published by the Hannah Arendt Center, is well worth reading. It's a brief review of the Taibbi book. I recommend that you click that link.


Image Credit:
https://www.amazon.com/Hate-Inc-Todays-Despise-Another/dp/1949017257

Friday, April 19, 2019

#109 / Meet Norm



Cass Sunstein, pictured above, is a law professor at Harvard Law School. In case you'd like to place him in the firmament of our political life, I can tell you that his third wife is Samantha Power, who is best known as an apostle of military intervention in the name of human rights. Power was President Obama's Ambassador to the United Nations. Sunstein and Power met in connection with their involvement in the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. Later, Sunstein was a member of the advisory group set up by Obama to investigate and provide recommendations after Edward Snowden revealed that the government was spying on every one of us. The advisory group pretty much justified the practice.

Sunstein is also the author of a new book, How Change Happens. I haven't read it, though I did read what David Brooks had to say about it in a column that ran in The New York Times on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Here is the essence of the Brooks' column: 

Sunstein’s book is illuminating because it puts norms at the center of how we think about change. A culture is made up of norms — simple rules that govern what thoughts, emotions and behaviors are appropriate at what moment. It’s appropriate to be appalled when people hit their dogs. It’s inappropriate to ask strangers to tell you their income. 
Most norms are invisible most of the time. They’re just the water in which we swim. We unconsciously absorb them by imitating those around us. We implicitly know that if we violate a norm, there will be a social cost, maybe even ostracism. 
From time to time, a norm stops working or comes into dispute. People are slow to challenge a broad norm, because they don’t want to say anything that might make them unpopular. But eventually some people notice that, actually, there are a lot of people who secretly think a certain norm is wrong or outdated.

When this happens, permission is granted to go public with your private thoughts. More and more people speak up and you get rapid, cascading change. There used to be a social penalty for supporting gay marriage. Now there’s a social penalty for not supporting it. 
Sunstein points to the importance of “norm entrepreneurs,” people who challenge old norms and create new ones. I’d add that there are at least five different kinds of norm-shifters, though often one person can perform several of these roles: 
Namers. These are people who describe the context in some new way. They describe the reality around us in a way that makes visible what had previously been invisible or taken for granted. Charles Dickens made the poor visible to Victorian England.
Confrontationalists. Social movements move forward by declaring disgraceful things that had formerly been acceptable: segregation, littering, sexual harassment, etc. They wake people up to the ways an old norm is disgraceful by actively and visibly confronting it. The civil rights movement had a strategy aimed at creating a soap opera every day: Do something every day that forces the segregationists to display their own hatefulness and the unjustness of their norms. This is how you rouse people. 
Illuminators. If confrontationalists tear down old norms, illuminators lift up new ones. They do this by showing how cool and just the norm breakers are and thus encourage others to copy them. The 1960s radicals violated all sorts of norms, but it was illuminators like Ken Kesey, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin who created the counterculture identity: This is who we are. This is the story we are all a part of. This is how we behave. 
Conveners. These are people who organize gatherings for those who want to shift the same norm. These gatherings embolden change agents by reminding them, “There are a lot of us!” They sponsor specific actions you can do to embody new norms. Everybody should recycle. 
Celebrities. When famous, good-looking or cool people embrace a norm-shift, you get a mass cascade. That’s when you win over all the people who may not be intrinsically interested in the cause, they just know that this is how the cool people think and act, so they want to do it, too.
... 
We all have the power to create cultural microclimates around us, through the way we act and communicate. When a small group of people shift the way they show approval and disapproval, it can shift the social cures among wider and wider circles. Suddenly, revolutions. The whole school of fish has shifted course in rapid ways that would have astounded us beforehand.

I agree with Brooks about the power of "norms." I have characterized what Brooks is calling "norms" as "people doing what is expected." Most people do that, most of the time. We fulfill the expectations we acknowledge. One reason that our presidential "celebrity in chief" is driving everyone nuts is that he is definitely one of those "norm entrepreneurs" that Brooks mentions, and our president is suggesting that there aren't, really, any "norms" at all. 

In such an environment, we need to be careful! Brooks' discussion about "norms" is a slightly different way of talking about how we are losing a sense of the "truth," to the point where we are moving to that state that Hannah Arendt tells us always accompanies totalitarianism: a state in which "everyting is possible and nothing is true."

A few blog postings back, I was insisting that "Honesty is Still in Style." I do believe it, and we need collectively to insist on the standards that we want to follow. In all our family and social interactions, we need to let others know that we expect certain kinds of behavior. Think about it like you are introducing an acquaintance to a friend. 

Hi, you say; meet Norm!


Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/08/opinion/rebuilding-norms-trump.html

Thursday, April 18, 2019

#108 / And Now...A Guided Tour To The Future



I keep saying that "nothing is impossible." I keep saying that we "live in a political world," and that it is our politics, in the end, that will change that world and transform reality. It looks like Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agrees. 

Please watch the video (Click on the arrow). 

Take the tour. 

That's step one!!

Image Credit:


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

#107 / My Hero!



Charles Blow, pictured above, writes opinion columns for The New York Times. He made a very good point in his column on April 8th, identifying President Trump as a "folk hero." As Blow explained it: 

The rules don’t apply to the folk hero. People don’t measure them by the same tape. Behavior that people would never condone in their personal lives, they relish in the folk hero. 
I believe that the great miscalculation people make in trying to understand Donald Trump and the cultlike devotion of the people who follow him is that they continue to apply the standard rules of analysis. I believe that ... Trump [has] ascended to folk hero status among the people who like him, and so his lying, corruption, sexism and grift not only do no damage, they add to his legend. 
The folk hero, whether real or imaginary, often fights the establishment, often in devious, destructive and even deadly ways, and those outside that establishment cheer as the folk hero brings the beast to its knees.

If Blow is right (and I think he is), "proving" how bad President Trump really is is not the way to beat him.

And beat him we must!


Image Credit: 
https://www.breitbart.com/the-media/2019/02/22/nyts-charles-blow-jussie-smollett-didnt-set-race-relations-back/

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

#106 / Quaint, Naive, Impossible?



I always enjoy reading the opinion columns of Leonard Pitts Jr (pictured above). Pitts writes for the Miami Herald, and one of his columns appeared in The Mercury News on Sunday, April 7, 2019. The headline on Pitts' column proclaimed that "thoughts of national unity," once seen as statements of a profound truth about our country, now "seem quaint, naive and impossible." 

Pitts was contrasting the 2008 campaign speeches of Barack Obama with the speeches now being given by presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke. Pitts said that Obama's words were convincing, in 2008, but that O'Rourke's similar words are unconvincing now. You may remember what Obama said, repeatedly, as he campaigned for the presidency: 

There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.

Here is O'Rourke's effort, the words that Pitts finds quaint and naive:

Whatever our differences, where you live, who you love, to whom you pray, for whom you voted in the last election — let those differences not define us or divide us at this moment. Before we are anything else, we are Americans first.

Read more here: https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article228735699.html#storylink=cpy

In fact, in a Washington Post article republished in that same edition of The Mercury News, Obama voiced some concerns that echo those concerns highlighted by Pitts: 

Former president Barack Obama said Saturday that he is concerned about “rigidity” among some liberal Democrats who take aim at others in the party for “straying from purity on the issues.” 
His remarks come amid an internal debate in the party over the most effective path to take in challenging President Trump for the White House in 2020. Democrats recaptured the House in November in large part due to a surge of liberal energy. But as some have embraced sweeping proposals such as Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal plan to combat climate change, others have balked, arguing that the party should take a more centrist approach. 
At a town-hall-style event hosted by the Obama Foundation in Berlin, the former president was asked about the art of compromise. 
He told the crowd of mostly young people that, in politics as well as in the civic arena, “you have to recognize that the way we’ve structured democracy requires you to take into account people who don’t agree with you.” 
“One of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States — maybe it’s true here as well — is a certain kind of rigidity, where we say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. This is how it’s going to be,’” Obama said. 
He lamented that Democrats sometimes create “what’s called a ‘circular firing squad,’ where you start shooting at your allies because one of them is straying from purity on the issues.” 
“When that happens, typically the overall effort and movement weakens. . . . You can’t set up a system in which you don’t compromise on anything. But you also can’t operate in a system where you compromise on everything; everything’s up for grabs. That requires a certain amount of internal reflection and deliberations.” 

To me, it seems that Pitts is operating on the premise that there is a "reality" about the state of our "union" that is objective. Pitts seems to think that when Obama talked, in 2008, there was a fundamental unity in the nation, and that this was recognized by Obama. Now, Pitts would say, there no longer is such a fundamental unity, and O'Rourke's efforts to conjure it back are "naive" and even "quaint." 

I think there is a confusion here between the perspective of an "observer" and the point of view taken by an "actor." We are, of course, both actors and observers. We both "observe" the world around us, and we take action in that world, and by doing so both create and change it.

Obama's powerful words were intended to, and did, transform reality to establish what he spoke of - a fundamental unity underlying our many divisions. That reality, to which Obama spoke, is still there. Let's not forget that. The divisions are obvious. The unity is submerged. When we succumb to the notion that "reality" is simply what we see, instead of reality being the consequence of what we "do," we are truly lost. 

There is nothing "quaint" or "naive" about understanding that we bring a world into being by what we  do, and that we can do only what we, first, believe. The reality of the world we ultimately inhabit will be based upon those statements that define for us what we insist the truth must be. 

The metaphor for this phenomenon that has always spoken most powerfully to me is that we can, with faith, "walk on the water." 

We can. And nothing is "impossible." We simply have to insist on a human world that conforms to what we know we need and want. We must never concede to an apparent reality that is unacceptable.

Not everyone can call us to recognize this truth. Obama did. Ojalá that someone, this time, can do so again! 


Image Credit:
https://www.tallahassee.com/story/opinion/columnists/2014/11/16/leonard-pitts-civil-rights-leaders-new-students/19153731/

Monday, April 15, 2019

#105 / Three-Eyed Raven



I am not much of a television watcher. However, I do show up in front of the television for Warriors' games, and I am planning to show up for all the final episodes of Game of Thrones.

On Saturday evening, in a game in which Klay Thompson was not his usual three-point self, making only one of six, I happened to call the one three-point shot he made. My wife, who agonizes each time the ball leaves a player's hands, wondered how I could have known that this shot was going to drop. Anticipating Sunday, when Game of Thrones returns, I proclaimed myself the "Three-Eyed Raven" of Warriors basketball. That is a dubious claim. I do, however, often call those long-shot three pointers correctly. 

With basketball, it is all a matter of physics. Once launched, a three-point shot is either on the right trajectory, or not. You don't have to be an actual Three-Eyed Raven, a "greenseer," who is "all-seeing and all-knowing," to make a prediction that turns out to be true. In the physical world, the World of Nature, as I usually call it, inexorable laws determine what happens in the future. 

Such is not the case in the human world. The conceit of Games of Thrones is that it is possible for those with special gifts to see, and thus accurately predict, the future. If you've got that gift, you can claim the title of "Three-Eyed Raven." In fact, however, in the human world, pronouncements about impending doom, or its opposite (it is mostly doom in Game of Thrones) are not properly received as statements of inevitability. Maybe in a television series, yes. In the "real" world in which we actually live, absolutely not. 

I just read Bill McKibben's most recent thoughts about the impacts of global warming: "This Is How Human Extinction Could Play Out." It is a pretty convincing (and pretty discouraging) outline of what seems to be happening, and it comes across, to me, as a kind of "Three-Eyed Raven" type of pronouncement. Those with the gift of foresight can tell the future. That works for television. Not in real life.

As Hannah Arendt has reminded us, we have, each one of us, the gift of freedom, which means that we can always do something new, and unexpected, and something that has never been thought of or done before.

How often does that happen? Not very often. That's certainly true!

But revolutions can, in fact, substitute something completely new for a taken-for-granted current reality. Take, for example, the United States of America as an example of something very new in the world that suddenly appeared and could never have been predicted. Arendt's On Revolution will tell you all about it.

With all deference to those who suggest that they have Three-Eyed Raven-like powers of future discernment, I have this to say: "You could be right; if nothing changes." Once the ball has left Klay Thompson's hands, it's either headed in or out of the basket.

Not true for predictions about our human future. Not true because freedom. Because we can do more than simply watch the trajectory of the history in which we find ourselves bound up.

We can change it!


Image Credit:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzLIWD_oOjI

Sunday, April 14, 2019

#104 / What Is Truth?



Pontius Pilate is the guy who asked Jesus, "What is truth?" That was just before Pilate, a Roman Governor, washed his hands, to demonstrate that Pilate took no personal responsibility for the actions he was just about to take. Then, Pilate sent Jesus out to be crucified. 

As Kurt Vonnegut might say, "so it goes."

In a particularly insightful article, published by TruthDig in January, 2019, philosophy professor Rebecca Gordon discusses the place of truth in politics. She uses Pilate's dialogue with Jesus as a place to begin the discussion:

What, indeed, is truth? As Pilate implies and John’s tale suggests, it seems to depend on who’s telling the story — and whose story we choose to believe. Could truth, in other words, just be a matter of opinion?

It isn't long before Gordon is talking about George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump. She doesn't mention Roger Ailes, the former CEO of Fox News, though she might have. While it may be that he never said it, Ailes is credited with the observation that "the truth is whatever people will believe." That approach to the truth is characteristic of contemporary political discourse, and Gordon addresses that approach to truth by referencing Hannah Arendt. Arendt noted that totalitarianism grows in any environment in which the people come to believe that "everything is possible and that nothing is true."

It seems to me that we have just about gotten there, in this country, and that this is a big problem. Of course, this is the main point of Gordon's article. If we want to stop our slide into an ever more authoritarian politics, in which power is the only reliable point of reference, then we need not only to insist that others tell us the truth, and that telling the truth matters; we must tell the truth ourselves. 

In almost every case, the "truth" about things is not easily discerned, which means that when we "tell the truth" about something "political," we need to acknowledge the limits of our knowledge and concede that there may well be something to be said for the "other side" of the question. "Concession" is an important part of telling a truth that will be accepted as such. Calling someone a "liar," our president included, is not the best way to convince someone that the truth is on our side.

My takeaway from the Gordon article, which I really do recommend, is that we all need to make sure that our own participation in politics doesn't enable others to decide that "everything is possible and that nothing is true." 


Image Credit:
https://medium.com/@stowens/pontius-pilate-on-trial-eeebdb82ecb6

Saturday, April 13, 2019

#103 / Lessons From The DMZ



A play I saw at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a couple of years ago, Hannah and the Dread Gazebo, came to mind as I was writing my blog post yesterday. The play itself was excellent (you can watch a brief excerpt by clicking this link); however, what struck me most about the play, and what I most remember, is a fact mentioned during the performance. 

It turns out that the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea is now a wonderland of biodiversity. All that was required for biodiversity to return to this area was for human beings to get off the land. The DMZ is 160 miles long, and about 2.5 miles wide. If you venture into the DMZ, as you probably know, you will likely be killed by machine guns trained on you from both North and South Korea. Hence, human intrusions are rare. The result, as documented by an article in The Guardian, is that "the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, is home to thousands of species that are extinct or endangered elsewhere on the peninsula. It is the last haven for many of these plants and animals and the centre of attention for those intent on preserving Korea's rich ecological heritage."

If we would like to head in the "right direction," and start giving back territory to Nature, so that we can survive as a species (and this is what E.O. Wilson says we need to do), it looks like the DMZ provides a pretty good test case and proof of concept. We can, in fact, help restore the biodiversity we have put in peril by simply getting off the land, and leaving it alone. Machine guns might not actually be necessary! There are surely other ways to ensure that we can restore land to its natural state (by simply leaving it alone). 

A recent story published on the EcoWatch website, indicates that we can start restoring our marine enviroments in the same fashion, by establishing marine sanctuaries. The article cites "a Greenpeace report [that] lays out a plan for how world leaders can protect more than 30 percent of the world's oceans in the next decade — as world governments meet at United Nations to create a historic Global Oceans Treaty aimed at strictly regulating activities which have damaged marine life."

There are lots of places where it would make sense for human beings to step back, and remove themselves and their activities. The results, in terms of biodiversity, could be astounding. 

Hey, what about repurposing some of the thousands of military installations that the United States has established all over the world?

Korean DMZ

Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.huckmag.com/art-and-culture/photography-2/inside-dmz/
(2) - Google Earth Pro

Friday, April 12, 2019

#102 / Let's Get Headed In The Right Direction



The latest edition of Wilderness Watcher, the Quarterly Newletter published by Wilderness Watch, observed that the United States Congress is not totally in synch with those who love and prize wilderness. 

The basic problem is that human beings tend to think that human activities are quite worthwhile, and the whole idea of "wilderness" is to set aside lands where many otherwise excellent human activities (take bike riding, for example) are simply not permitted. The front-page story in Wilderness Watcher is about cattle grazing. The "Message from the President" focuses on how tempting it is for Congress to legislate exceptions that undermine the integrity of the National Wilderness Preservation System, even as the Congress aims to expand our wilderness areas.

Our wilderness system is intended to set aside areas "where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, [and] where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." Our "wilderness" areas are "areas of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions."

The problem is that although we recognize the importance of wilderness, we find it all too easy to encroach upon it. Whenever we do that, we are heading in the wrong direction. The Trump Administration, of course, is sprinting as fast as it can in that wrong direction. Today's confirmation of David Bernhardt as the new Secretary of the Interior gives ample proof of that. Bernhardt is a former oil industry lobbyist, and his bias is not towards the preservation and protection of our natural and wilderness areas.

E.O. Wilson, who knows more about the importance of biodiversity than almost anyone, has urged us to set aside one-half of the Earth as wilderness. Reducing, rather than expanding, human impacts on the natural environment is our safest route to self-preservation. We may live, most immediately, in a world that we construct, but we depend, ultimately, on the World of Nature.

Let's take a warning from Wilderness Watch and get headed in the right direction!


Image Credit:
https://wildernesswatch.org

Thursday, April 11, 2019

#101 / Growth - Above All Else



An opinion editorial in the April 3, 2019, edition of The New York Times caught my attention. The headline was "Big Tech Was Designed to Be Toxic." The editorial sought to explain why "Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have become hotbeds for extremism, propaganda and bigotry."

The author of the Op-Ed, Charlie Warzel, claimed that "there is a tendency to overcomplicate things." His explanation was pretty simple: 

The original sin, it seems, isn’t all that complicated; it’s the prioritization of growth — above all else and at the expense of those of us who use the services.

"Growth" as a goal, in almost any context, leads us down the wrong path. How about aiming for a "steady state." How about defining "progress" as maintaining and enhancing the quality of what we already have?

In the 1970's, in Santa Cruz County, California, which was then the fastest growing county in the state and the fifth-fastest-growing county in the United States, the voters decided that promoting "growth" was contraindicated. In June 1978, by adopting Measure J, a referendum measure submitted to the voters and adopted on a countywide vote, the people of Santa Cruz County declared that the promotion of "growth" had to be subservient to other, more important ambitions.

The graphic at the top of this blog posting, illustrating what "growth" is doing to the planetary environment on which all human life depends, was found from a Google search for images that illuminate "growth and greed."

The kind of unthinking growth to which we seem increasingly addicted, including with respect to the online, high-tech services discussed by Warzel, is another name for "greed."

Let's not "overcomplicate things." When "growth" reflects "greed," what it produces will never be "good." 


Image Credit:
https://www.slideshare.net/kirtigarg10/impact-of-human-greed-on-earth

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

#100 / Taking The Ninth



Everybody knows about "taking the Fifth." The phrase means that the person using it is asserting his or her right not to be forced to provide testimony that might be incriminating. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution has some other features, too (see below), but when you "take the Fifth" you are definitely laying claim to its statement that "no...person...shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself...."

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Nobody has ever "taken the Ninth," at least not to my knowledge. Or, .... let me rephrase that: nobody uses that language to claim the protections that are provided by the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution. See below for the full text:

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

In essence, the Ninth Amendment says that we all have many "rights" that are not specifically listed in the Bill of Rights, and that we can rely on these unspecified rights, vis a vis efforts by the government to tell us how we have to behave. Our unspecified and unenumerated rights are just as solid and trustworthy as those ennumerated rights spelled out in the Constitution. We could call the assertion of those rights as "Taking the Ninth."

When I teach the Bill of Rights to Legal Studies students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, I not only cite to Griswold v. Connecticut, which made this point clear, as the Supreme Court held  in that case that married persons have a "right" to use contraception, should they wish to, but I then also refer my students to the foundational document of our American system of government and law: The Declaration of Independence

None of us should forget what the Declaration says about our rights:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (emphasis added).

The "rights" to which the Ninth Amendment refers (those rights not spelled out specifically in The Bill of Rights) are the "unalienable" rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The right to pursue happiness, and to enjoy life, and liberty, are rights that are neither limited nor constraining. Those are the rights, in the end, to which the Ninth Amendment refers. We "retain" those rights, and they don't have to be spelled out!

I happened to be thinking about these issues because of a review I read in The New York Times on April 1, 2019. A new play, now on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theatre, is titled, "What the Constitution Means To Me." A scene from the play appears in the picture at the top of this blog post. Click right here to read The New York Times' review. The review makes me want to go to New York City, just to see this play!

Here is a brief excerpt from the review that made me think about the Ninth Amendment:

Ms. Schreck’s jokes, left unrefrigerated a second too long, keep curdling after the laugh. She zooms past certain details — such as growing up in an “abortion-free zone” — as if they were haunted houses. 
They are. And in the next part of the play, removing her jacket and reintroducing herself as a grown woman less eager to please, she lets the ghosts out. We learn about her great-great-grandmother, a melancholic mail-order bride; the history of domestic abuse in her family; and her brush with certain rights the Supreme Court eventually located in the “penumbra” of the Ninth Amendment and in the right to privacy of the 14th. 
Though neither of these concepts is explicit in the document, the teenage Ms. Schreck merrily interprets them as prime examples of the framers’ brilliant modesty. “The Constitution doesn’t tell you all the rights that you have,” she says, “because it doesn’t know.”

I do love that! Sometimes, we don't know, ourselves, all the many rights we have. When we realize what they are, and assert them, we are on firm Constitutional ground. Our "rights" to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are guaranteed. The Ninth Amendment tells us so. 


Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/31/theater/what-the-constitution-means-to-me-review.html

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

#99 / Under Water



Click this link to read "Under Water," Elizabeth Kolbert's requiem for New Orleans. Clicking the link should take you to her article in the April 1, 2019, edition of The New Yorker. 

In the end, it seems to me, Kolbert's article is not just about flooding in New Orleans, and about its eventual demise. One definition of the term "underwater," used most typically to describe the value of a financial asset, is this one: "an asset without actual value." 

One wonders whether human civilization, in its entirety, as I think Kolbert intimates, isn't actually facing the same situation as New Orleans:

Through activities like farming, mining, and clear-cutting, people have directly transformed more than half the ice-free land on Earth—some twenty-seven million square miles—and we’ve indirectly altered half of what remains. As with the Mississippi, we have dammed or leveed most of the world’s major rivers. Our fertilizer plants and legume crops fix more nitrogen than all terrestrial ecosystems combined, and our planes, cars, and power stations emit about a hundred times more carbon dioxide than volcanoes. We now routinely cause earthquakes. (A particularly damaging human-induced quake that shook Pawnee, Oklahoma, on the morning of September 3, 2016, was felt all the way in Des Moines.) 
In terms of sheer biomass, the numbers are stark-staring: today, people outweigh wild mammals by a ratio of more than eight to one. Add in the weight of our domesticated animals—mostly cows and pigs—and that ratio climbs to twenty-three to one. “In fact,” as a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences observed, “humans and livestock outweigh all vertebrates combined, with the exception of fish.” We have become the major driver of extinction and also, probably, of speciation. In the age of man, there is nowhere to go—and this includes the deepest trenches of the oceans and the middle of the Antarctic ice sheet—that does not already bear our Friday-like footprints. 
Atmospheric warming, ocean warming, ocean acidification, sea-level rise, deglaciation, desertification, eutrophication—these are just some of the byproducts of our species’ success. Such is the pace of what is blandly labelled “global change” that there are only a handful of comparable examples in Earth’s history, the most recent being the asteroid impact that ended the reign of the dinosaurs, sixty-six million years ago. Humans are producing no-analogue climates, no-analogue ecosystems, a whole no-analogue future. At this point, it might be prudent to scale back our commitments and reduce our impacts. But there are so many of us—nearly eight billion—and we are stepped in so far, return seems impracticable.

Image Credit:
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2019/04/01/louisianas-disappearing-coast

Monday, April 8, 2019

#98 / Moment With A Snake



I always enjoy the Sierra Club's Desert Report. I thought the March 2019 issue was unusually good, and among all the exceptionally informative articles in that issue, I was particularly struck by "My Moment With A Snake," by Birgitta Jansen. I can't link you right to the article. You'll have to hunt it down for yourself in the March 2019 issue. I am providing an excerpt, that tells the story, right here:

ON A SUNNY SUNDAY MORNING IN APRIL, I walked down an old abandoned mine road in Redlands Canyon, Death Valley National Park. ... The flowers were at their peak, and a cloud of insects created a multitonal symphony. The seductive scent of nectar filled the soft warm air. With each step I felt so fortunate to find myself in the midst of it all and experience this vibrant celebration of life. 
Suddenly I heard a sound I should have recognized instantly but somehow didn’t. I stopped walking and listened. For a split second I thought “bird?” No, couldn’t be. It went on for too long. But I couldn’t immediately determine which direction it came from. The air resonated with so many sounds. Then I happened to look down. Right next to the trail and approximately two feet away from my feet, was a mature Panamint Red partly coiled and rattling softly but insistently. 
I looked at her as she looked at me. There was no doubt as to the message that she conveyed. “You are too close.” 
I slowly backed away. Odd, I did not feel threatened. It felt like a straightforward warning not a preliminary to an attack. I slowly backed away a few feet, and she stopped rattling. We both remained motionless as she scrutinized me for a few more minutes. Then she turned away and went on her way leisurely gliding along looking utterly elegant. Her movement was smooth and flowing, regardless of any impediments this wild terrain offered. She was beautiful; sleek, muscular and healthy looking. This was her territory. This was her home. She knew it and she looked it. As I stood watching her, I was mesmerized. 
Then I thought: “Photograph.” I was not carrying a camera, so I called out to Neal, my husband, who was nearby but out of sight. He recognized the urgency in my voice and soon came walking around a corner. Being the artist and avid photographer that he is, he carried two cameras, one strapped over his shoulder and one in his hand. As Neal approached, the snake knew instantly that something had changed. She slid under a bush and stayed put. And that was that. ... 
When I think back to my encounter with this magnificent Panamint Red, I ... regret my actions. I wished I had just allowed myself to be fully engaged with the magic of that moment. Here I had been given the opportunity to observe a snake being a snake. It was a creature utterly alien and inaccessible to me, but yet it was right there fully inhabiting her own world. I not only splintered that opportunity but also rudely invaded her space.

Ultimately, I am left with the question: do I want a photograph or do I want the experience that touches my soul?

It seems to me that the essence of Jansen's meditation upon our place in nature is her realization that we are visitors in the Natural World, and should behave as guests. When we do that, and simply observe, in awe, the wonders of the world that sustains all life, including our own, our joy can be profound. When we try to appropriate nature, and turn it to our own uses, we very often go awry, sometimes in small ways, as in Jansen's story, and sometimes in much larger ways. 

Overall, I think we are going awry in rather large ways. We ought to take care. If we listen closely, we can hear the rattles: Be advised!


Image Credit:
http://www.californiaherps.com/snakes/images/cmstephensitr.jpg

Sunday, April 7, 2019

#97 / Procrastinatory Cognitions



I have been known to procrastinate. Thus, I was happy to see a full-page New York Times article, on Monday, March 25, 2019, that promised to provide me with some helpful advice on "Why You Procrastinate and How to Break the Habit." According to the article, which ran under a "Smarter Living" banner, my tendency to put off doing what I know I should be doing is a result of my "procrastinatory cognitions." Those are defined as "the ruminative, self-blaming thoughts many of us tend to have in the wake of procrastination."

The article suggests that getting to the "root cause" of procrastination requires you to "forgive yourself in the moments you procrastinate." The cure is "self-forgiveness" and "self-compassion." 

That sounds right to me! Why should I feel guilty about playing Freecell instead of grading student papers? I am forgiven!

You know, there is some pretty good theology that supports this advice, as well as some good psychology. If you have ever succumbed to any of those "procrastinatory cognitions," you might want to check out this article. I mean it! Really! Don't delay! Do it right now! Don't wait a moment longer! 

See..... I bet you didn't click that link!

And if you didn't: Forgive and forget. 

I'm going back to Freecell, myself!


Image Credit:
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/25/smarter-living/why-you-procrastinate-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-self-control.html

Saturday, April 6, 2019

#96 / The Key To Success Is Engagement



In a recent article, The Wall Street Journal provided some advice on "The Right Way to Choose A College." This was, of course, a timely article, in view of the recent college enrollment scandal that has revealed how the wealthy and well-connected have been bribing all the "best schools," to gain entry for their offspring. 

Since The Journal tends to cater to the business elite, to exactly the kind of "wealthy and well-connected" persons who have, apparently, been bribing school admissions officers on behalf of their kids, this article can be read in a rather cynical way. It can, in other words, be a kind of apology that is intended to let the rest of us know that the bribing scandal "doesn't really matter very much." The point of the article is that all those "best schools" aren't really "best" in terms of providing a good education, and giving students a step ahead in the post-college world of employment and achievement. So, if your kid has been edged out of Stanford or Yale by a rich and well-connected person who bribed the school to gain admission for his or her child, consider yourself lucky!

Probably, that level of cynicism is not what motivated The Journal to run this article, but I felt impelled to note the cynical possibilities. I think the article is well worth reading, and that it is actually correct in its conclusions. 

What the article says is that "engagement," both inside and outside the classroom, is what leads to post-college success. The "best schools" often don't do a good job of fostering such engagement, which means that a young person could actually be better off eschewing prestige for a school that involves and engages the student in a participatory brand of education. 

Here are the factors that Denise Pope, writing in The Journal, identifies as keys to student success post-graduation:

• Taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting
• Working with professors who care about students personally
• Finding a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals
• Working on a project across several semesters
• Participating in an internship that applies classroom learning
• Being active in extracurricular activities

According to Pope: 

As important as these various forms of engagement seem to be, relatively few college graduates say that they experienced them. While more than 60% of graduates strongly agreed that at least one professor made them excited about learning, only 27% strongly felt that they were supported by professors who cared about them, and only 22% said the same about having a specific mentor who encouraged their goals and dreams. Just under a third strongly agreed that they had a meaningful internship or job or worked on a long-term project, while just a fifth were actively involved in extracurricular activities.  
Given the research on what matters in college, the best advice for choosing the right one would seem to be finding a place where the student will be engaged, in class and out, by all that the college has to offer. The good news is that engaging experiences of this sort can happen at a wide variety of colleges, regardless of selectivity, size or location. And with over 4,500 accredited degree-granting colleges in the United States, students have plenty of options from which to choose.

I am a big fan of "engagement," in education and politics, too. I also think, now that I have had some experience with college teaching, that the factors listed by Pope are, indeed, key. My wife, who has been recognized, officially, as a "distinguished educator," has provided me with a role model for my own teaching of Legal Studies courses at UCSC.

Marilyn taught, for the most part, at DeAnza Community College, though she taught at UCSC, too, during the time she was doing her graduate work and for a couple of years after gaining her doctorate; she is now back on the local campus, teaching in the Crown College Core Course, aimed at first year students. Neither DeAnza nor UCSC are the kind of colleges that have been caught up in the "bribery scandal," and yet some of the students my wife has taught have gone on to really impressive success, post-graduation. Marilyn taught a student who is now the Editor of Critical Inquiry, the most prestigious literary journal in the nation. She taught a student who went on to become Poetry Editor of The Atlantic. She taught a student who is now the Vice President of Foothill College.

"Engagement" is the key for students.

"Engagement" with the students is the key for the teachers!


Image Credit:
https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-right-way-to-choose-a-college-11553266896

Friday, April 5, 2019

#95 / Combat Without Risk



On Sunday, March 31, 2019, The New York Times ran an editorial titled, "The Secret Death Toll of America's Drones." So far, the United States has an "exclusive" on the use of military drones. It is unlikely that this death-dealing monopoly will continue forever. In the meantime, however, drones operated by the United States are killing lots of people, including people classified as "civilians," and the United States government is supressing the evidence. That was the main point of the editorial: 

A lack of transparency and accountability for civilian deaths helps enemies spin false narratives, makes it harder for allies to defend American actions and sets a bad example for other countries that are rapidly adding drones to their arsenals. It could also result in war crimes, as some critics have claimed.

I was struck by a sentence right at the end of The Times' editorial: 

There is no such thing as combat without risk.

I found this sentence singularly inappropriate with respect to the phenomenon being discussed; namely, the military use of drones by the United States. 

"Combat," it seems to me, is properly defined as a "fight." This is the definition supplied by Merriam-Webster. In a fight, the "combatants" put each other at risk. The word "combat" shouldn't be used if that isn't the case. 

The military use of drones is not a "fight," or a "combat," because the so-called "combatants" do not each have an equal ability to damage each other - or actually any ability to damage each other, to be more accurate. A sentence talking about an "unequal combat," could be a valid use of the word "combat." Take the example of how the U.S. Cavalary, with guns, matched off against Indian tribes equipped with bows and arrows. This is an example of an unequal combat. Still, in that kind of case, there is at least some chance that an Indian warrior could do damage to a solider. Indeed, we know that the Indians won, sometimes, as in the case of Custer's last battle at the Little Bighorn.

The military use of drones is not a "combat." A drone operator, located just outside Las Vegas, Nevada, perhaps, steers a drone airplane over Afghanistan, with the plane operating three miles above the ground. Using modern technology, the drone operator pushes the button to kill people whom someone has told the operator are people who ought to be killed. Others in the vicinity are killed, too. Those are the "civilian" casualties The Times is talking about. 

Think about it, though. What sort of "combat" is this? There is no risk whatsoever to the drone operator. There is no "combat." Let's call it what it is. The military use of drones by the United States government is murder, albeit murder that is sanctioned by military or intelligence authorities. There isn't any "combat" involved. These are "executions," and nothing else - and executions that often wind up killing other people, who weren't specifically designated to die.

A nation that thinks it can sail around the world executing people whom it has decided ought to die is inviting people around the world to try to figure out some way to even the odds, and to turn these executions into a genuine "combat." 

We do know some ways that those who take the side of those being executed are trying to turn the military use of drones into an actual "combat," where there is, indeed, "risk" on both sides.  



Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/30/opinion/drones-civilian-casulaties-trump-obama.html
The rug used by The Times was woven in Afghanistan. You can buy one from Warrug.com. It replaces more traditional designs!
(2) - https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/652765/Terrorist-attacks-Germany-Terrorism-Foiled-plots-Threat-Security-Islamic-State-ISIS

Thursday, April 4, 2019

#94 / Battlefield



The picture above is from the website that advertises and supports "Battlefield 4," a popular video game. The "Battlefield" video games, as Wikipedia says, are "a series of first-person shooter video games ... developed by Swedish company EA DICE and ... published by American company Electronic Arts." 

I am not a "Battlefield" player, but I note that many, if not most, of the scenes depicted show military action within cities. This emphasis on city-based military combat seems to sanction the idea that cities are where military action is most appropriate. I am arguing the opposite

"War," according to Google's built-in dictionary, is defined as "armed combat between nations." To my mind, war is countraindicated, in general, as a way to solve problems, and as a way to advance human civilization and/or to achieve righteousness and justice. However, IF war is to be continued, as a fundamental human activity, I suggest we return to the original idea that battles should take place on "battlefields." In other words, it used to be that armed conflicts took place in uninhabited spaces that afforded room for the contesting armies to kill and be killed without directly endangering others. Not a bad way to go, if war is what we want!

If we do continue to insist on that "kill and be killed" formula, let's do that kind of thing outside the boundaries of our occupied urban environments, where we have made centuries worth of investment that we need to protect and preserve, and where ordinary people live. Let those who agree to kill or be killed do their killing and dying in places where the rest of us won't have to become unwilling participants and/or victims. Increasing the number of worldwide homeless persons is not a prescription for world peace!

After all the killing is done, those battlefield locations can end up being rather beautiful, too. Check out the pictures below. Not quite the kind of scenes we left behind in Dresden and Nagasaki!

The Battlefield at Gettysburg

The Battlefield at Ypres (The "Flanders Fields" of the famous poem).

Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.battlefield.com/games/battlefield-4
(2) - https://www.cecildaily.com/spotlight/ravens-take-team-field-trip-to-gettysburg-battlefield/article_874a21f2-df8e-57c4-a6d0-579494047929.html
(3) - https://therepublicanstandard.com/flanders-field-100-years-ago/