Saturday, June 19, 2021

#170 / From Spectators To Strategists


Alicia Garza, pictured, is the co-founder of the international Black Lives Matter movement. She is also the author of a recent book, The Purpose Of Power.  
I think Garza would probably agree with Anand Giridharadas, about whom I have written previously. Garza would likely join Giridharadas in saying that the various philanthropic organizations that have stepped forward, both nationally and internationally, and which proclaim their earnest intention to solve all of the world's most pressing problems, are engaged in an "elite charade." 
Garza believes that power is "the ability to make decisions that affect your own life and the lives of others, the freedom to shape and determine the story of who we are [page 186]." She is, in the pursuit of such usable power, focused on grassroots organizing, working from the "bottom up," not from the "top down," as those philanthropic organizations do it. 
I like the way that Garza conceptualizes the effort: 

Building a movement requires shifting people from spectators to strategists, from procrastinators to protagonists. What people are willing to do on social media doesn't always translate into what they're willing to do in their everyday lives. Movement building and participation require ongoing engagement, and the levels of engagement must continually shift and increase - from just showing up to signing a petition to getting nine friends involved to helping design strategy to pressuring a legislator to leading a group, and so on [page 144] (emphasis added).
I very often say that if we want to continue to have a system of democratic self-government, then we are going to have to get engaged in government ourselves. We are going to have to, in other words, convert ourselves from "spectators to strategists," and then continue on from there. 

As the world is demonstrably falling apart all around us, is there anything you can think of that might be more important?
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Friday, June 18, 2021

#169 / When The Day Comes...


Heather Cox Richardson, who teaches history at Boston College, writes "Letters From An American," a daily commentary on American politics and government. On May 23, 2021, she wrote a lovely tribute to Frederick Douglass, who is pictured above:

Frederick Douglass wrote his autobiography three times, but to protect the people who helped him run away from enslavement, he did not explain how he had managed to get away until the last version.

Douglass escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1838. In his twenty years of life, he had had a series of enslavers, some harsher than others, and one who almost killed him. But by 1838, he was a skilled worker in the local shipyards, earning good money for his master and enjoying a measure of freedom, as well as protection. He had good friends in the area and had fallen in love with the woman who would become his wife.

It was enslavement, but within that existence, it was a pretty good position. His peers in the cotton fields of the Deep South were beaten like animals, their deaths by violence unremarkable. Douglass himself had come close to being "sold down the river"—a term that referred to the slave convoys that traveled down the Mississippi River from older, worn out lands in the East to fresh, raw lands in Mississippi and Louisiana—and he knew that being forced to labor on a plantation in the Deep South would kill him.

His relatively safe position would have been enough for a lot of people. They would have thanked God for their blessings and stayed put. In 1838, Frederick Douglass was no different than they were: an unknown slave, hoping to get through each day. Like them, he might have accepted his conditions and disappeared into the past, leaving the status quo unchanged.

But he refused.

His scheme for escaping to freedom was ridiculously easy. In the days of slavery, free black sailors carried documents with them to prove to southern authorities that they were free, so they could move from northern and foreign ports to southern ports without being detained. These were the days before photos, so officials described the man listed on the free papers as they saw him: his color, distinguishing marks, scars. Douglass worked in shipyards, and had met a sailor whose free papers might cover Douglass... if the white official who looked at them didn't look too closely. Risking his own freedom, that sailor lent Douglass his papers.

To escape from slavery, all Douglass had to do was board a train. That's it: he just had to step on a train. If he were lucky, and the railroad conductor didn't catch him, and no one recognized him and called him out, he could be free. But if he were caught, he would be sold down river, almost certainly to his death.

To me, Douglass's decision to step aboard that train is everything. How many of us would have taken that risk, especially knowing that even in the best case, success would mean trying to build a new life, far away from everyone we had ever known? Douglass's step was such a little one, such an easy one... except that it meant the difference between life and death, the difference between a forgotten, enslaved shipyard worker and the great Frederick Douglass, who went on to become a powerful voice for American liberty.
This is almost all of Richardson's text from her May 23, 2021 letter. I am saving her closing words - the best part - to follow my own comment. 

My comment is this. We who are alive today, and I think particularly Americans, must summon up all of our personal courage - above every other thing. We need courage because we are called - we are required - to step away from the familiar existence in which we find ourselves. We are called upon - we are required - to transform our world. 
If we don't summon the courage to make radical changes in how we live, global warming is going to destroy our world - our human world, as well as the World of Nature.
Our nation's long history of racial injustice must also be rectified in some fundamental way. We must move beyond the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement, as significant as they were. They were not enough. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. got us to the mountaintop. We need to move down to the promised land he spoke of, and we need to move together. No more delay!

The domination of our society and economy by the corporations and those of great personal wealth must also be overcome. We cannot allow that proverbial "one percent" of the population to gather in and sequester the overwhelming majority of the resources that flow from a society and economy that depends upon the contributions of us all. 

We must disarm. We must end the perpetual wars in which we are engaged. We must end the nuclear terror that threatens our world and all of us who are alive right now. This terror is, as William Faulkner said in accepting the Nobel Prize in 1950, a "tragedy ... a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it."

None of these things - and there are others, too, of course - will be easy to accomplish. But they must be done, and none of these things can be achieved if we don't have the courage to change, to risk ourselves, to risk our current lives, and to leave behind what seems to be a "pretty good position" to arrive at the place where we need to be. 

Here is how Heather Cox Richardson ends her story about Frederick Douglass:

Tomorrow, my students will graduate, and every year, students ask me if I have any advice for them as they leave college or university, advice I wish I had had at their age. The answer is yes, after all these years of living and of studying history, I have one piece of advice:
When the day comes that you have to choose between what is just good enough and what is right... find the courage to step on the train.
"When the day comes...."  

But don't we all know, really, that the day has come? Don't we all know, deep down, that the time to travel on has now arrived? Now is the time in which we need to summon up our courage to make great changes. Individually. And together. 
Let's not pretend that our "pretty good position" (for those lucky enough to be in such a position) is a "good enough" place to be. 

Step On The Train
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Thursday, June 17, 2021

#168 / Relational Theory And Our Political World


Werner Heisenberg, pictured above, revolutionized physics. He is perhaps best known for his articulation of what has been called the "Heisenberg uncertainty principle." If you click on that link, to learn more, you had better be pretty adept at mathematics!

Not being pretty adept at mathematics, I have to rely on words, as I keep trying to understand the essence of quantum physics. A book review in The Wall Street Journal has helped (at least somewhat). The review is by John Banville (and, yes, this means the Irish novelist John Banville, who I guess is interested in physics, too). Banville's review is titled, "The Paradox of Particles" and discusses a recent book by Italian physicist Carlo Rovelli, Helgoland: Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution
Here are Banville's concluding paragraphs: 
Mr. Rovelli follows the trail of quantum theory through some delightfully unorthodox byways, including Buddhist mysticism and Russian revolutionary politics, to arrive at last at the notion that is most dear to him, that of the “relational” interpretation of quantum theory. Although he explains this version of ultimate reality at the atomic level with characteristic flair and enthusiasm, he does not pretend it is easy to understand, or any less counter-intuitive than Heisenberg’s matrices or Schrödinger’s hovering cat.

“Everything,” he writes, “is what it is only with respect to something else.” The electron is manifest only when it interacts with another object, even if that object is only the questing eye of the observer. Reality in the quantum world is tenuous, fleeting, “intricate and fragile as Venetian lace. Every interaction is an event, and it is these light and ephemeral events that weave reality,” not the manifold of whizzing billiard balls envisioned by the old science. “Reality, including our selves, is nothing but a thin and fragile veil, beyond which . . . there is nothing.”

This is not a counsel of despair; quite the contrary. Mr. Rovelli’s is a radiant void, quick with potential, in which objects, or “objects,” have their being through contact with and dependence on each other. And in this interdependent, interlocked world, the way to enlightenment is through co-operation not confrontation. For all his delicacy of touch, Mr. Rovelli is a man, and a scientist, of large ambition. It is time, he declares, to bring the relational theory into general discussion, “beyond the restricted circles of theoretical physicists and philosophers, to deposit its distilled honey, sweet and intoxicating, into the whole of contemporary culture”... (emphasis added).
If we count politics, law, and government as aspects of our "contemporary culture," Heisenberg, by way of Rovelli, by way of Banville, is suggesting that they must all be understood as "relational," having existence only as we acknowledge that our political, legal, and governmental world is "interdependent," and that we must live in it "through cooperation not confrontation." 
Do I know more about quantum physics now, having read this review? Not really. 
Still, it's nice to think that there is a genuine validation in quantum physics for my views on our human world! That's how I am reading Banville, on Rovelli, on Heisenberg!
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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

#167 / Status Quo Bias


Rebecca Solnit, pictured, has written an engaging article in The Guardian, "Stop Glorifying 'Centrism.'" The points she makes are related to the points made in my recent blog posting, "The Sasquatch Of American Politics." Here is an excerpt from Solnit's article that will give you the flavor of her argument: 

The idea that all bias is some deviation from an unbiased center is itself a bias that prevents pundits, journalists, politicians and plenty of others from recognizing some of the most ugly and impactful prejudices and assumptions of our times. I think of this bias, which insists the center is not biased, not afflicted with agendas, prejudices and destructive misperceptions, as status-quo bias. Underlying it is the belief that things are pretty OK now, that the people in charge should be trusted because power confers legitimacy, that those who want sweeping change are too loud or demanding or unreasonable, and that we should just all get along without looking at the skeletons in the closet and the stuff swept under the rug. It’s mostly a prejudice of people for whom the system is working, against those for whom it’s not (emphasis added).

The "rarely seen but fervently sought" ideal of "bipartisanship," a demand that there be general agreement before changes are made, is, just like "centrism," a snare and delusion. A search for general agreement, or "bipartisanship," is the "Sasquatch of American politics" that I wrote about earlier, and "bipartisanship" is definitely an example of status quo bias. What we need is neither "bipartisanship" nor "centrism." What we need is the courage to make real changes that will address the looming dangers that we have failed to acknowledge as real, and that are heading our direction.

Solnit gives an example:

A decade ago, when I went to northern Japan for the first anniversary of the Great Tohuko Earthquake and tsunami, I was told that the 100ft-high wave of black water was so inconceivable a sight that some people could not recognize it and the danger it posed. Others assumed this tsunami would be no bigger than those in recent memory and did not flee high enough. A lot of people died of not being able to see the unanticipated (emphasis added).

I have written, previously, about the "Great Wave." I said then, and say again now: "the alarm has been given. There will be no time but this present time in which to choose. The Great Wave is on its way."

If we are to succeed in "fleeing higher," as we must, any demand that we find our solutions "in the center" is to dismiss the possibility that our ability to make real change, and to avoid the dangers coming our way, will not, in the end, be found in the center at all, but will be found somewhere else.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

#166 / Hello, Neighbors

The heartfelt appeal, below, comes from a posting on the web-based application Nextdoor
Hello Neighbors, I have a question. What is driving up home prices in Santa Cruz? What is driving prices up 30%-50% over the past two to three years? Who is buying these homes? ... I keep a close eye on houses and have a great real estate agent, but now that I am in a position to buy a house the prices keep going up with multiple offers over the asking price and I wonder how anyone from Santa Cruz County can keep up. A standard raise at work is between 5%-and 8% each year - nowhere near the increase in home prices. Several houses on Zillow on the market now are priced above 50% of what they sold for a few years ago. Congratulations to all the people who bought homes and are making a 50% profit in such a short period of time, that is great for you. And I don't blame anyone for taking the advantage of increased demand and making such a handsome profit on their investment. My rent is more than many mortgages (over $5K a month) and I am grateful I can afford this but am losing hope that I'll be able to buy a house in my hometown. My young adult daughters were born and raised here and I always thought Santa Cruz would be our home, that I would have a home base for them to return to. I would like to know though, where sellers are going and who is able to afford to pay $1,500,000 for a modest home? Thank you for your answers and insights.
Over a hundred comments were promptly posted in response. They included the following: 
  • Wealthy workers from Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) are buying second homes in Santa Cruz and outbidding local people. 
  • Wealthy workers from Silicon Valley, who can outbid local residents for housing, are moving over here because they can now work remotely and who wouldn't rather live in Santa Cruz?
  • Wealthy workers from Silicon Valley, who can outbid local working families for housing, are choosing to buy in Santa Cruz because the prices here are less than in the Silicon Valley, and who wouldn't rather live in Santa Cruz?
  • Wealthy workers from Silicon Valley are cashing out stock, and think Santa Cruz real estate is a good investment. It's a great place to park their money. With all those dollars, they can easily outbid local residents.
My sense is that all of these responses are right on target. The common element is that in a "market economy," which is where we live, those who can pay more than others get the goods that are available. Those who can't pay more don't get the goods! With few exceptions, Santa Cruz residents trying to buy a home in Santa Cruz are simply unable to outbid those from the Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) whose incomes are vastly greater than the incomes of Santa Cruz workers. A working family relying upon a Santa Cruz income will almost inevitably be unable to purchase a home here. They will simply be outbid. This is what gave rise to the heartfelt appeal I have reprinted from Nextdoor.

Is there anything to be done? 
As many, if not most of us, have noticed, our economy does not distribute its economic benefits anywhere near equally. Though we are definitely "all in this together" where our economic system is concerned, a very small percentage of the population gets almost all of the money that the economy produces. Others get hardly anything. Since we do live in a market economy, it's natural that those with more money get to buy what they want, while others are not able to buy even what they need. The only real solution to this problem is to change the massive income inequality that makes it impossible for ordinary working families to buy a home. I support national legislation to accomplish just that. That's what it will take.
Unfortunately, the Santa Cruz City Council is trying to solve the problem by placing faith in what is often called the "law of supply and demand." That is another "market solution." If we just build a lot more new housing, the Council reasons, there will be more supply, and surely that will bring the price down. The census bureau tells us, however, that Santa Cruz County has a total population of about 273,000, and that the median income of Santa Cruz County residents is about $82,000 per year. Given this, there is simply no way to provide a supply of housing that could let Santa Cruz County residents, with their rather modest incomes, outbid the 7,000,000+ residents of the Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, many of whom have incomes far greater than $82,000 per year. 
In fact, trying to lower prices by letting the developers build more (and the State Legislature, like the City Council, is trying to advance this agenda) does not mean appreciably more affordable housing for local residents. Instead, it means more local impacts on water, traffic, parking, and public services, more local costs for taxpayers to absorb, and more existing neighborhoods made less congenial. And the kicker is that these new developments quite often demolish existing, modest single family homes, to make way for housing that will be sold to non-Santa Cruz residents, those from the Silicon Valley (and elsewhere) whose incomes let them outbid working families with Santa Cruz level incomes.

When I think of the massive challenges that we must face and overcome, global warming always comes to my mind first. I next think of the massive wealth and income inequality that is undermining national unity, and that is destroying our local communities from within. 
Including my own local community. 
The heartfelt appeal from Nextdoor is a cry of anguish. We need to make that cry of anguish resound from the lowest to the highest levels of our politics and government, and we need to deal with the wealth and income inequalities that are not only driving Americans apart, but that are helping to destroy our local communities.  As with global warming, the extent of the changes we must make are daunting. 

But that is what we need to do!

And in the meantime, let's stop destroying our neighborhoods in the false hope that "market solutions" for our affordable housing crisis will work. For-profit developers are the problem, not the solution. When developers want approval for a new development, here's what I think the rule should be. For nonprofit developers planning to produce new housing units - housing that will be permanently price-restricted, and that can be rented or purchased by local residents who have local incomes - I think the answer should probably be "yes." Build it.
When for-profit developers ask for approval, urging on their mega-projects, designed for the market economy (the economy in which those with the most money will get the goods) I think the answer should probably be "no."

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Monday, June 14, 2021

#165 / Pixie Dust: Making Magic

I have recently read, in quick succession, and in the order listed below, two articles that discuss (and illuminate) the current state of our "financial markets." I suggest that you read them, too.
In the June 7, 2021, edition of The New Yorker, Charles Duhigg provides readers with a "Letter From Silicon Valley," illustrated with the image above. Duhigg's article is titled, "The Pied Piper of SPACS," and provides readers with an arresting portrait of Chamath Palihapitiya. SPACS are "special-purpose acquisition companies," and the article tells us that what Palihapitiya does is to sprinkle "pixie dust" among potential investors, as he convinces them to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in companies that have exactly zero assets, but that are garnished with lots of "hype."
On Sunday, June 6, 2021, The New York Times Magazine ran an article titled, "The Mystery of the $113 Million Deli." That article, written by Jesse Barron, was illustrated by the image at the bottom of this blog posting. Barron's article chronicles how the stock of a semi-successful deli, located in New Jersey, is now valued on the Over-The-Counter (OTC) markets at that $113 million dollar figure. Near the end of the article, Barron provides us with this summary of the kind of "reverse mergers" that his article documents:

Douglas S. Ellenoff, a partner at Ellenoff Grossman & Schole L.L.P., whose firm has executed at least 25 reverse mergers, told me that although reverse mergers have been “abused on occasion,” the practice was, on balance, a beneficial one. “There’s nothing wrong with being creative and putting deals together and making magic,” Ellenoff said.
There are those who might be suspicious of proposed investments described in terms of "pixie dust" and "magic." Count me among their number. I was pleased to find that Duhigg, at least, did refer his readers to a countervailing narrative, Charles Mackay's "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds." That is a book that was given to me by my father, as I have explained before. The book was provided to me with a stern injunction to read it, which I did, and its prophylactic impact has undoubtedly saved me from many a risky speculation. I, for instance, have had local friends who took out loans on their homes - borrowing money, in other words - to invest that money in the Ponzi scheme run by Bernie Madoff. They lost everything, but I didn't bite. Thank you, Dad!

I found both of the articles I mention here to have been worthwhile reading. What came across to me most strongly, in both of them, is the fact that our "economy," nowadays, has become ever more subservient to "finance," as opposed to the actual production of goods and services. 
The example of "Your Hometown Deli" makes this clear. Delicatessen shops are supposed to produce good eating. This wasn't a franchise operation. It was just one shop, located in a rural area of New Jersey, yet it was treated by the financial markets as if it were a worldwide enterprise - and a successful one, at that. Why? Because that "magic pixie dust" convinced investors that there was a lot more going on there than met the eye - and that the stock price would increase. Largely, it was a manipulation, as the article makes clear.

What is disturbing, when you think about it, is not so much the fact that investors in these speculative financial vehicles may well lose their money (as those who invested with Bernie Madoff did). That's bad, but it can be seen as an individual problem for those who choose to speculate. The big problem is that our entire financial system is now subject to these speculative investments to such a degree that when large failures occur, the non-speculative investments of responsible persons - you and me, in other words - are put at great risk. 

The use of SPACs as a financing vehicle, as described in Duhigg's article, is quite similar to the kind of "reverse merger" financing discussed by Barron. Both of these techniques are intended to avoid financial regulations. My thought, after reading these articles, is that we should insist on such regulations. Efforts to "liberate" investments from the cloying impact of regulatory bureaucracy is putting all of us - not just the speculators - at increased risk.

Image Credits: 
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Sunday, June 13, 2021

#164 / Legacy: Help Wanted!


Recently, I visited an old college friend who now lives, during the winter months, in Sonoita, Arizona. During the rest of the year my friend lives in Duluth, Minnesota, where his children are located. Given the connections that Duluth has to Bob Dylan, I think I'll have to make a visit up there, too, but I went down to Arizona for a few days, at the end of May, just to keep my friend company during the last part of his Winter sojourn this year.

Vegetation is sparse in Sonoita (and so is water, even more so than in California in this year of our mega-drought). In Sonoita, the winds blow, ferociously, for extended periods, and the total population is something like 800 people. Most of those who live in Sonoita are ranchers of one sort or another, or work in the few restaurants, motels, and retail stores - or are Border Patrol agents. Attending a woman's barrel-racing event was the major entertainment on tap. Dinner was pizza at the "Velvet Elvis" restaurant in nearby Patagonia. Our main expedition was a visit to the "Trump Wall" in Nogales, which is right on the Mexican border, and which is the county seat of Santa Cruz County, Arizona. The picture below shows what that "Trump Wall" looks like. I will make no personal comment on what our former president said was "that beautiful wall." Like Fox News puts it: you decide:

There are not too many people in Sonoita who want to discuss the "Great Decisions" questions or other such topics. My friend was pretty much starved for good discussion, and he produced an agenda of suggested discussion topics for my visit that contained thirty-three listings. One of these was "legacy."

As I indicated at the outset, my friend is an "old" friend - and that is in both senses of the word. At this stage in our lives we are both "old," chronologically, and my friend is thinking about the implications of that. He's not trying to "duck" the issue, and neither am I. "Legacy" means what will we leave behind us, when we're gone. Children and grandchildren figure significantly into the picture, of course, but so do questions about who will remember us, and for what reasons. My friend has had a notable career, and remains very active in work with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and with the Quaker Universalist Fellowship - and with Voices From The Border. What about my legacy, he asked. 

Well, I said, I am hoping to be remembered for my time on the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors (twenty years, from 1975 to 1995), during which time I think Santa Cruz County exemplified what is possible when locally-based democratic self-government is alive and active. I donated 120 file boxes of my supervisorial records to the University of California, Santa Cruz Library, and an index to these records is available, online, under the following title: "The Gary Patton Political Papers." I have a few other "legacy" type offerings available online, too, listed in the lefthand column of this blog. I told my friend that my hope was that someone, sometime, would write up a history of the politics of Santa Cruz County, from 1970 to the end of the 20th Century, because what happened in our community was truly extraordinary. 

At this point, my friend suggested that I should actively seek out someone to do exactly that. I said I thought I really couldn't pay for that work! He suggested (being a great volunteer himself) that I should look for a volunteer. 

Well, that is an idea, and while I have no great expectations, why not? Getting a qualified person to volunteer to do that history is a long-shot idea that could work out - given that anything is possible, as I am fond of saying. 

Readers should consider this blog posting as a "help wanted" bulletin. Anyone who wants to do a great graduate thesis, ultimately publishable, I am sure, or who would otherwise like to write up the history of this extraordinary period in our local history, with lots of lessons applicable elsewhere, please don't hesitate to get in touch. There is an important story to be told, I am certain of that. 

As an alternative, I suggest subscribing to this blog. In a way, I am trying to do that "legacy" thing on my own account, right here!

Image Credit:
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(2) - Gary Patton personal photo

Saturday, June 12, 2021

#163 / The Markeyverse Gets Scary

That's when I realized I had a stake in this game. They are scared of me, a random teenager on the internet who just happened to be doing some organizing with her friends. 
- Calla Walsh 
Calla Walsh, both pictured and quoted above, is a sixteen-year-old Boston activist. She and her very young colleagues, the "Markeyverse," are out to transform politics in Massachusetts - and perhaps ultimately in the nation. An article in the May 19, 2021 New York Times tells the story. If anyone reading this blog posting can penetrate The Times' paywall, let me suggest that you read the whole story. I find it quite encouraging. Here is an excerpt that will give you the flavor:
Calla Walsh [is] a leader in the group of activists known here as the Markeyverse. Ms. Walsh, a 16-year-old high school junior, has many of the attributes of Generation Z: She likes to refer to people (like the president) as “bestie.” She occasionally gets called away from political events to babysit her little brother. She is slightly in the doghouse, parent-wise, for getting a C+ in precalculus.
She is also representative of an influential new force in Democratic politics, activists who cut their teeth on the presidential campaigns of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The full strength of these activists — many of whom are not old enough to vote — did not become clear until last fall, when they were key to one of the year’s most surprising upsets, helping Senator Edward J. Markey defeat a primary challenge from Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, who had been heavily favored to win.
But the Markeyverse carried out a devastating political maneuver, firmly fixing the idea of Senator Markey as a left-wing icon and Representative Kennedy as challenging him from the right. They carried out ambitious digital organizing, using social media to conjure up an in-person work force — “an army of 16-year-olds,” as one political veteran put it, who can “do anything on the internet.”
The "Markeyverse" got engaged in the Massachusetts' Senatorial election because of young people's concerns about global warming - and because the national government has failed to take any systematic or effective action in response. The younger you are, of course, the more you have "skin in the game" where the issue of global warming is concerned.
I was attracted to the article, immediately, because Calla Walsh used the word "scared" to describe how traditional political players - all Democrats - felt about her and her "Markeyverse" colleagues. 

I endorse the idea that political action should make officeholders feel "scared." Not physically, of course, but in terms of what almost all politicians care about most, their ability to keep their jobs. 

The proper operation of our system of representative government requires that those whom we elect to represent us should actually represent "us," the voters, not their campaign contributors or the reigning (and often status quo) ideology. Having been an elected official myself, active in electoral politics at the local level for twenty years, I witnessed the system working as it ought to in Santa Cruz County, California. 
When the majority wants something, and elected representatives are not delivering, we must either replace those non-delivering representatives at the next election, or those representatives must decide to change their ways, and to get with the program. That is how it's "spozed to be." Effective political organizing (like that done by the "Markeyverse") can be thought of as a "scared straight" program for politicians.
How do you scare them? You have to do what Calla Walsh and her compatriots are doing. You have to get personally engaged in politics, on the streets and on the internet, and remind our representatives who they are supposed to be working for!

The concept is simple, but the execution of the concept means citizens and voters must redirect their energies, and become "political" - just like Calla Walsh. You can't have any kind of effective self-government unless you are willing to get involved yourself.

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Friday, June 11, 2021

#162 / A Community For All?


The picture above, taken from a New York Times' article, depicts a town meeting in Wausau, Wisconsin. The Marathon County Board of Supervisors was debating whether or not it should declare Marathon County to be a "community for all." The faces in that audience were virtually all white, and the Board was nowhere near agreed on that "community for all" language.

The lone Black member of the county board, Supervisor William Harris, stood up and begged his colleagues who opposed the resolution to change their minds.
“I want to feel like I’m a part of this community,’’ he said. “That’s what a lot of our residents are saying. We want to contribute to our community. We want to feel like a part of this community.”
But a fellow board member was just as passionate at the meeting ... in arguing that acknowledging racial disparities is itself a form of racism.

The Times' story was quite disturbing - and so was the result of the meeting. In the end, the resolution proposing the "community for all" language was rejected by the Board's Executive Committee by a 6-2 vote. And that wasn't the end of the matter. The Times' story, in fact, kicked off even more dissent and discussion in Marathon County, with The Times then doing a follow-up, "The Rift Grows Wider." 
I said it yesterday. Let me say it again:

We are in this world together - and we are all different, in lots of different ways. I am pretty convinced that our future prosperity and survival is going to be closely tied to how successful we can be in overcoming our differences and celebrating our diversity.
That's true in New York City, and it's true in Marathon County, Wisconsin. 

That's just plain true. Always and everywhere!
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Thursday, June 10, 2021

#161 / Meantime, Back On Broadway


The New York Times has editorialized against a decision by the organizers of the city's annual gay pride parade to ban the participation of uniformed police officers. The parade is scheduled for June 27th this year. Roxane Gay, one of The Times' contributing opinion writers, is fully in support of that decision to ban uniformed police officers, but The Times thinks that banning uniformed officers is a mistake:

If parades are celebrations of community and history, the Pride parade is also about the joy of belonging — of being part of a people knitted together by shared identity and survival. It wasn’t so long ago that L.G.B.T.Q. people were thrilled to cheer for every out person and ally who would march in the parade, including L.G.B.T.Q. police officers, who often received some of the biggest cheers from onlookers. These police officers were vital in helping make the L.G.B.T.Q. community more visible and varied in a nation slow to overcome old stereotypes and fears. Today, at a time when Republican legislatures are attacking transgender rights across the country, it’s a strange moment for the L.G.B.T.Q. community to be closing the door on some of its own and missing an opportunity to broaden its coalition. 
The New York City Pride organizers’ decision is part of a worrisome trend in recent years of Pride organizers who have barred uniformed officers from marching in cities like Toronto and Vancouver, or have tried to do so, in places like Sacramento and St. Louis. Taking a pledge to protect and serve your city should not mean sacrificing the chance to be included in a community celebration of your identity.

Ana Arboleda, a sergeant in the New York Police Department - and who is also a lesbian - told The Times that she feels most connected to the L.G.B.T.Q. community when she marches down Fifth Avenue with the Gay Officers Action League during New York’s annual Pride celebration. She calls the decision to ban the participation of uniformed police officers "devastating." “Being banished for celebrating a part of my identity is not easy for me,” Ms. Arboleda said. “Instead of being embraced, they’re throwing me back in the closet.”
We are in this world together - and we are all different, in lots of different ways. I am pretty convinced that our future prosperity and survival is going to be closely tied to how successful we can be in overcoming our differences and celebrating our diversity. 
With due respect to the arguments of Roxane Gay, I think I'm with The Times on this one!
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Wednesday, June 9, 2021

#160 / National Unity?


Thomas Friedman has made this observation about the latest events in Israel and how they are tied to the recent hostilities:
In the wake of Israel’s fourth election, and Netanyahu’s failure to form a government, a national unity coalition was taking shape in Israel — under the leadership of the secular-centrist Yair Lapid and the religious-rightist Naftali Bennett. They were on the verge of forging a cabinet that would include both Israeli Jews and, for the first time ever, an Israeli Arab Islamist party. 
That is what gave this emerging opposition national unity coalition an opportunity to put together a broad government that for the first time ever would have included right-wing pro-settler Zionist parties, left-wing secular progressive parties and a pro-Islamist Israeli Arab party — and possibly, eventually, even secular Arab parties. 
It would have broken the mold of Israeli politics forever. And that is why the local Jan. 6-style opponents — in Israel and Hamas — were determined to blow it up. 
Otherwise, it might lead to more progress and integration between Jews and Arabs, and attempts to address unemployment and humiliation, especially among Israeli Arab youth, and not to aggravate them.

Perhaps it would be good for the United States to start trying to advocate for what might be called a "One State" solution. For a long time, we have been insisting on a "Two State" solution. Not much progress there!

We all have to live together, because we all share the same world. Living together with those with whom you disagree is what it means to be alive at all. The United States used to be committed to the idea that this could be done. Just check our dollar bill (E Pluribus Unum).

Maybe we ought to start trying to find ways to apply this insight in the Middle East. 

And elsewhere!

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

#159 / A Civilization Of Stasis?


That is Jeff Bezos, pictured above, the wealthiest person on the planet, standing in front of one of his Blue Origin rocketships. The June 7, 2021, CNN news story from which I obtained the photo informs the public that Bezos will soon be blasting into space. His trip is currently scheduled for July 20th. Bezos is taking his brother along, undoubtedly out of a sense of family solidarity. Non-family members are going to have to pay, and are invited to bid for another place on the "Blue Shepherd," the name of the capsule that will contain Bezos and the other passengers sent off planet in late July. Currently (on June 7, 2021), the high bid is going for $3,200,000. Obviously, only billionaires need apply.

Other billionaires, who will probably not be bidding on this trip, have similar dreams of conquering space, and they intend to do it on their own. I am referring, specifically, to Elon Musk and Richard Branson. It's too bad for Elon and Richard, but it looks like Bezos is going to be the first billionaire to get there. 

If you want to know why Jeff Bezos (and probably the other space-obsessed billionaires) are so anxious to blast off, you can get a hint from the CNN news story. Bezos is passionate about space, he says, and is pursuing his work to get there, "because I believe if we don't, we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing."

Such inspiring words, oh noble billionaire! In other words, "you're bored!"

Too much money can do that to you, you know!

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Monday, June 7, 2021

#158 / The Weiner Plan: "Bad Things" Will Happen


Pictured is State Senator Scott Weiner, who comes from San Francisco. Weiner has been leading the charge in the California State Legislature to eliminate or radically curtail traditional local government land use powers. It is Weiner's contention that local governments have been using zoning and other land use controls to discourage the production of affordable housing. Accordingly, Weiner has been promoting state legislation that will let the state, not local governments, make the key decisions that will determine the future shape and character of local communities.
One of Weiner's bills, Senate Bill 35, enacted in 2017, mandates the approval of various proposed developments without regard to their impact on existing neighborhoods or the natural environment. In Santa Cruz, a developer has proposed a huge high-rise structure on the corner of Branciforte Avenue and Water Street. An architectural rendering of the proposed development is shown below:

Thanks to SB 35, the developer may be able to gain approval of this proposed six-story structure (with a rooftop bar) without any environmental review whatsoever, and without any right for the City Council even to vote on the proposal. The project, if it qualifies for SB 35 treatment (this is currently being evaluated by the City Planning Department), will be considered a "ministerial" project. 
Historically, "ministerial" projects are things like one single family dwelling, built on an already-existing single family lot. Or, perhaps, adding a carport to an existing residence. Big developments have traditionally had to go through a lot of local government review, including environmental review - and for a very good reason. The traffic, parking, water, and neighborhood impacts of large-scale developments may be extremely significant. The impacts of the proposed 831 Water Street development would certainly be significant, but under SB 35, qualifying proposals just get stamped at the counter! No votes. No chance for local residents to tell their elected officials what they think. What local residents think is irrelevant if SB 35 applies, since their local elected officials have been stripped of their traditional land use authority. 

SB 35 was only the beginning, not the end, of Senator Weiner's efforts to eliminate local government control over land uses that might restrict what developers can do. Weiner is currently carrying a bill in the State Legislature, Senate Bill 9, that will override single-family zoning, and make it possible for developers to build up to four units on existing single-family lots. These developments, where permitted, would also be "ministerial." No City Council hearings will be required. No environmental review. As with SB 35, no votes! Property owner/developers will just go down to the Planning Department to get their ministerial approvals over the counter, and formerly single-family neighborhoods will be turned into multi-family neighborhoods - at the developers' discretion, with local residents and their elected officials having no say.

The motivating idea behind the Weiner Plan to displace local government authority is that the state needs more affordable housing. 

And it does!

But does excusing developers from local review, including environmental review, and does increasing development densities without consideration of neighborhood and other impacts, actually lead to more "affordable" housing? Actually, not really! It mostly doesn't. It does lead to more profits for developers, however.
A recent article in 48 Hills, an online community newspaper published in San Francisco, points out what will really happen if SB 9 is enacted:

The immediate result if SB 9 passes as now written will be a BIG jump in the value/price of ALL the single-family home properties where this new development potential might be used. In the high-cost Bay Area, SB 9’s passage will add at least $100,000 to the price of any feasible house/lot. And most such homes in San Francisco could see jumps from $200,000 to $400,000 (view lots, etc.).
There is no way that instant price jump in home prices is a Good Thing. It will put even more housing units financially out of the reach of today’s hopeful home buyers. And it will make those properties even more attractive to “investors” (aka “flippers”) looking to exploit the State’s housing crisis for their own personal profits.
Those are Bad Things (emphasis added).
In Santa Cruz, our affordable housing crisis is not the result of some concerted effort by local elected officials to stop development. Because housing prices are almost always set by "the market," the problem comes from the fact that those who want to live in Santa Cruz, and whose income reflects what is typical for Santa Cruz residents, are almost always outbid for any available housing by those who are able to pay more, because they have higher incomes generated in the Silicon Valley, or elsewhere. 
Eliminating the ability of local government officials to use zoning and other land use regulations to address community impacts doesn't solve the problem, and it will ensure, as 48 Hills has noted, that "Bad Things Will Happen!"
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Sunday, June 6, 2021

#157 / Cheugy?

The word “cheugy” (pronounced CHEW-gee, with a hard G) has spread through certain corners of the online discourse like a forest fire in dry brush ...  Invented by Gen Z, it has become a particular fascination of millennials, who have become obsessed both with understanding what cheugy means and with not being cheugy themselves.

According to the New York Times and numerous follow-on trend pieces, the term describes someone who is out of date or trying too hard. “Cheugy” is a near cousin of “basic” and “uncool,” but somehow different, at least according to Gaby Rasson, the now-23-year-old software developer who coined the term way back in 2013. A cheug strenuously attempts to stay on trend; the problem is that the trends they’re following are from 2015: Starbucks, chevron patterns, the term #Girlboss, jokes from “The Office” (emphasis added).

I ran across the word "Cheugy" in a Washington Post column published on May 16, 2021. Below, I am reproducing the column in its entirety, to provide assistance to those who would otherwise be hit by the WaPo paywall. 
That column in The Post is the first time I ever heard the word "cheugy," and that is where I got both the illustration and the definition I have provided above.
Not being a member of Gen Z, or a millennial, either, I think I am officially "beyond Cheugy," at least as I understand the concept. While I may be "out of date," I am not actually trying to be "on trend," much less trying "too hard." Again, as I understand the concept, you have to be actually trying to be up to date (and failing) in order to merit that "cheugy" label. Since I am not really trying to keep current, I think I am in the clear - as far as being cheugy is concerned.
Boy, am I relieved!
In the meantime, I am hoping that Gen Z and the millennials aren't spending all their time thinking about whether or not they are "cheugy." I am hoping that they are thinking just a little bit about global warming, massive income inequality, racial injustice, voter rights, and other challenges facing our beleaguered democracy  (to name just a small sample of the things that I am thinking about). 


Opinion: Yes, You’re Cheugy. But it’s fine!
Opinion by Christine Emba
“Are the Obamas cheugy?” 
The question, innocently posed by a friend, has been rattling around my brain for days. And truly, it’s a difficult one to answer.

Barack and Michelle personally? Likely not. But the act of being really into them — listening to the former president’s podcast with Bruce Springsteen, or actively looking forward to the former first lady’s new Netflix series? Definitely cheugy. I think. Maybe. 

But let’s rewind a bit, to bring the uninitiated up to speed. The word “cheugy” (pronounced CHEW-gee, with a hard G) has spread through certain corners of the online discourse like a forest fire in dry brush — the brush being the distinct lack of new conversational topics after a year spent at pandemic-imposed remove. Invented by Gen Z, it has become a particular fascination of millennials, who have become obsessed both with understanding what cheugy means and with not being cheugy themselves.

According to the New York Times and numerous follow-on trend pieces, the term describes someone who is out of date or trying too hard. “Cheugy” is a near cousin of “basic” and “uncool,” but somehow different, at least according to Gaby Rasson, the now-23-year-old software developer who coined the term way back in 2013. A cheug strenuously attempts to stay on trend; the problem is that the trends they’re following are from 2015: Starbucks, chevron patterns, the term #Girlboss, jokes from “The Office.”

As a topic of conversation, “cheugy” is near perfect. It’s basically harmless — not a political meltdown, vaccination conspiracy theory or police killing. And it allows for the same level of self-regard as a horoscope or personality test. Are you cheugy? Am I? Are the things we like cheugy? How do we stay on trend?

Millennials could back-and-forth about this for days. But our obsession with defining this minor Gen Z roast says more about us than it does about the term itself. We’re worried about being cheugy because we’re worried about getting old.

For more than a decade now, millennials have been the “it” generation. We joked darkly about our avocado toast as we were shafted by the boomer-controlled economy. But at least we could be safe in the knowledge that we were being talked about.

Not so anymore. The favored generation is now the one after us: Gen Z. They’re here with their wide-legged jeans, impenetrable slang and disdain for our Obama-era trends. The media is wondering what their experience of the pandemic is, how little sex they’re having. Political energy is shifting in their direction, too — less technocracy around health care and more “big bets” on fighting climate change; less #Girlboss energy and more “preferred pronouns.”

By now, millennial concerns are rote. Yes, yes, we’re burned out, beleaguered by student debt and still struggling to buy real estate. But the oldest millennials turn 40 this year; at this point, no one is coming to save us. We are expected to have grown up by now, and with that should come a willingness to let someone else take center stage. When people speak of the “kids these days,” they’re not talking about us. It’s causing us some anxiety.

But maybe it’s also fine.

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Saturday, June 5, 2021

#156 / Blogging On!

The New York Times reported on June 2, 2021, that former president Donald J. Trump has shut down his blog, and has "removed himself entirely from the internet." 
The Trump blog, called "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump," was apparently getting very little traffic, and friends told Trump that it was "making him look small and irrelevant." 

Meantime, the "traffic" generated by this blog - the one you're reading - is far below the numbers that our former president found so unacceptably low. Despite the significantly non-viral existence of my blog (I sort of tell myself, "who's counting, anyway?"), I can report that the biologic model for this blog is less the Mayfly and more the Desert Tortoise, which is known to live from fifty to eighty years. 

I am starting to get near that eighty year mark, personally, and this blog has now appeared, each day, 4,179 times (almost eleven and one-half years, and counting).
Feel free to publicize this blog, if you like it. Tell your friends! Subscribe, so you never miss it! If, however, none of this encouragement appreciably increases my "traffic count" (which I suspect will be the case), I am not going to conclude that I am "small and irrelevant."
We are not "irrelevant." Never! None of us is "irrelevant." As Ugo Betti said (and Jesse Jackson said the same), we are all "immensely, immensely important." 
You are important. Me, too! All of us are, and if we could ever get it together to act in common, we'd be invincible.
So, read the excerpt from Ugo Betti's play, "The Burnt Flower Bed," included below, and be aware of this: I am not planning to shut down this blog. 
I'm blogging on!
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Friday, June 4, 2021

#155 / Meet The Press?


In the last several days, I have been reading a lot about Naomi Osaka, a professional tennis player. In fact, she is not just any tennis player, either. As Wikipedia tells us, Osaka has been ranked No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) and is the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles. Osaka is pictured, above, and a story in The New Yorker provides more information about her stellar career:

In 2018, during the U.S. Open trophy presentation, after a match marred by controversy surrounding a confrontation between Serena Williams and the umpire. The crowd, which had been on Williams’s side, booed as Osaka was named the champion. Osaka cried, and tried to hide her face. She was twenty years old then, already launched into a life that everyone could see and that no one could possibly imagine. Over the next three years, Osaka won three more Grand Slams, and the publicity surrounding her career and her life grew even more intense. Her image was on the cover of Vogue and on billboards towering over Los Angeles and Tokyo. She became an icon, and she did iconic things. She helped design sneakers for Nike, a salad for Sweetgreen. In May, Sportico estimated that she had earned more than fifty million dollars during the previous year, which made her the highest-paid female athlete in history... A recent Times feature about her ran under the headline “How Naomi Osaka Became Everyone’s Favorite Spokesmodel.”
I am not an avid sports fan, and I didn't really know much about Osaka until Tuesday, June 1, 2021, when The New York Times devoted a full page to Osaka in its "SportsTuesday" section. June 1, 2021, is also when The New Yorker ran that story from which I have already quoted. Osaka was "big news" in the world of sports on Tuesday, because of her decision to withdraw from the French Open, and particularly because of the reason she decided to do that. Osaka announced before her first match that she would refuse to take part in a press conference following the match - and then she followed through. Here is how The New Yorker explained events:

It is not, in fact, unusual for players to skip press conferences—particularly players who can afford to pay the resulting fines. What was unusual was the decision to opt out of them entirely, ahead of time, and to publicly question the rules and practices surrounding them. Osaka also sent a private e-mail to French Open officials apologizing for any affront and saying that she would like to “work with the Tour” to set up a new system once the tournament was done. But the officials at all four Grand Slams treated both this e-mail and her initial statement as existential threats. After trying and failing to engage with Osaka, they said, they issued a joint statement to publicly warn her that the penalties would escalate if she maintained her stance and that she could be expelled from the tournament. Within a day [given those threats], she pulled out.

As already indicated, I am not much of a sports fan, though I certainly knew Osaka's name, and knew that she is a great tennis player. What surprised me, as I started reading all the stories, was that refusing to participate in a post-tournament press conference could bring down so much wrath upon Osaka that she felt the need to withdraw from the tournament to protect her mental health. 
As it turns out, which I didn't know, tennis players who participate in these major tournaments bind themselves, contractually, to subject themselves to the press. Osaka's announcement, thus, was seen as an "anticipatory breach" of contract, to use a legal term, and when she made good on her plan and skipped that first post-match press conference, "existential wrath" did pour forth. 

Several other tennis professionals, including former tennis champion Billie Jean King, indicated that Osaka was refusing to "do her job," and little sympathy was shown to Osaka in the immediate aftermath of her decision to withdraw from the French Open. In fact, The Times article implied that Osaka was, essentially, a "bad sport," and was trying to obtain an unfair advantage over other players, who would have to endure the press conferences, while Osaka would skip them, and then use the time not spent with the press to relax, all the better to prepare for her upcoming matches. 

The continuing coverage of this matter has now begun to stress how courageous and brave Osaka has been to bring up, publicly, the kind of stress that professional athletes can experience, and to suggest - or even demand - that those in charge of these major tennis tournaments pay attention to and accommodate the athletes' need to protect their mental health. The Wall Street Journal, in fact, has said that what Osaka did has "reignited a conversation that is reshaping pro sports."

I think that forcing sports organizations to pay attention to the mental health-related issues experienced by professional athletes is a good thing, and I was pleased to see that Stephen Curry agrees. (While I am not much of a sports fan, I do follow the Golden State Warriors!) However, what struck me most in the events just described was the fact that the "job" of a professional athlete is apparently not just to play hard and try to win. That, too, of course, but I was amazed to find that a tennis champion's legally defined "job" includes - as a contractual commitment - talking to sports writers and other media types, and enduring their questions and suggestions. 

Non-sports fan that I am, I have always naively supposed that the "job" of a professional athlete was simply to train and participate and try to win in whatever sport in which the athlete was involved. If the press and media are interested, as of course they are, because the public is, the burden of "covering" the stories generated within professional sports should be on the press and the media, not on the athletes whose successes and failures are the "news" that the press and media will bring to the public. 

That is, apparently, not the way it is, so professional athletes are actually "working" for the corporate, wealthy interests that use sports to make their money, and the owners are telling the athletes not only that they need to be winners, to keep their employment, but that they need to "flak" for the sports entities that stage the contests in which they are involved. 

As the Osaka story continues to unfold, I hope that the mental health needs of professional athletes will, indeed, get more consideration. That is what the most recent news articles suggest might happen. A New Yorker article published yesterday, in fact, asks "What if Pro Sports Leagues Were Controlled By Their Players?" That sounds like a good idea to me. If that were true, "taking a knee" during the playing of the National Anthem might well not result in an athletic death penalty, as it did for Colin Kaepernick

As professional athletes think about that possibility, I suggest there should be a reevaluation of the idea that an athlete can or should be contractually bound to talk to the press, whether that athlete wants to talk to the press, or not. Somehow (non-sports fan that I am), that just doesn't feel right to me. While expressed in more general terms, I was delighted to see that the Thursday edition of The New York Times ran an Op-Ed column by Lindsay Crouse that more or less makes this same point. The column's title? "The Power of 'Nope.'"

Meet the press, athletes? Only if you feel like it!

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