Saturday, February 16, 2019

#47 / More Than A Critic, More Than An Observer

I would like, in the end, to be more than a critic, and more than a mere observer of what "is." In other words, I would like to be someone who does something more than simply describe the nature of the reality in which I find myself. That reality, of course, is the reality we all inhabit.

Good observation and description is powerful (see those "Sunbeams," below). There is no doubt about that, and being able to describe and delimit the realities we confront is of critical importance. Changing the world, though, is what I would really like to help accomplish.

Because I believe that the world we most immediately inhabit is, in fact, infinitely malleable, I would like to help create a new version that better reflects our hopes and dreams - and I mean the hopes and dreams of all of us, the ones we share, in our deepest selves. I believe that any analysis that ends with the contemplation of the purely individual misses the most important thing: we are all in this together.

One of my favorite Bob Dylan songs is from this album, Together Through Life. Click to listen!

One of my favorite magazines, The Sun, provides its readers, each month, with the kind observations of our human condition that can inspire us to the kind of actions we need to take. The magazine calls these observations "Sunbeams." Click the link for the full menu from the January 2019 issue. I have provided a sample below:

Incontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet, every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become. 
          - James Baldwin

Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before — more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle. 
          - Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Empathy is the antidote to shame. . . . The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too. 
          - Brené Brown

In the end, I would like to help change the world. I think we need to do it, and now is the time, and I think there may be a lot of us who feel that way.

I feel a change coming on!

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Friday, February 15, 2019

#46 / White Lies

Ijeoma Oluo, pictured above, has written a book called, So You Want To Talk About Race, which has been a New York Times bestseller. I found out about Oluo's book from the December 2018 edition of The Sun magazine, which ran an interview with her that the magazine titled, "White Lies." Click to read it. Particularly if you are white!

Based on the interview in The Sun, I feel confident in recommending Oluo's book. And of course, I truly do recommend The Sun, a late-in-my-life discovery that brings me joy and tears each month. You can click this link to subscribe

What did I find so powerful in the interview published in The Sun? Passages like this: 

Leviton: You say you didn’t write So You Want to Talk about Race explicitly for white people. 
Oluo: No, although I always have to write knowing that the majority of my readers will be white. I find that frustrating, by the way. White readers slow me down! [Laughs.] It’s hard being a writer who just wants to explore words and instead has to find different ways to explain the most basic things about race to white people. I couldn’t do that for an entire book. 
Leviton: What has the reaction been from white readers? 
Oluo: I find that the amount of white anger I get in response to my writing is inversely related to the number of words. A five-hundred-word essay online will get more criticism than a book of many pages — because, you know, who’s going to read several hundred pages of something they hate? 
I’m not really interested in receiving thanks from white people, but I am interested to know what they are doing with the information. I don’t need white people to toss their privilege out, to disempower themselves. What I need them to do is look for where their relative power lies and use it for my benefit. What I want is for them to speak up in boardrooms, where policies are being made; to have a tough conversation with a Republican congressman who wants their vote — and who’s working hard to make sure I can’t vote. I only have a few ways of being heard, and you have hundreds: Go use that power.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

#45 / Hostage Taking

Marzieh Hashemi

TEHRAN — A prominent U.S.-born journalist working for an Iranian state-run satellite television channel has been arrested in the United States, the broadcaster said Wednesday. 
U.S. officials have not confirmed the arrest of the journalist, Marzieh Hashemi, who has lived in Iran since 2009 and is an anchor at Press TV. 
Press TV said Hashemi, 59, was arrested at the St. Louis airport Sunday and was then transferred by the FBI to Washington, where she remains in custody. No charges have been filed against her, the channel said.

The report of Hashemi’s detention comes a week after Iran confirmed it had detained a U.S. Navy veteran, Michael White. White’s family said he was arrested in July while visiting his Iranian girlfriend, and he has been in custody on unknown charges since then.

A relatively brief news story about the incarceration of Marzieh Hashemi (a born-here citizen of the United States) appeared in the January 16, 2019, edition of The San Francisco Chronicle. If a paywall doesn't intercede, and I can't promise it won't, you can read the full article by clicking right here. Here is a link to a follow-up story that describes Hashemi's treatment during a ten-day detention (now ended) which was terminated without any charges being filed.

I think I am noticing a trend. Nations, in engaging in conflicts with other nations, are now starting to take individual people as "hostages," to use them as bartering chips in those international conflicts. China has been doing it, and it appears that the United States is right with them. Iran takes someone hostage, so our country does the same.

If someone is alleged to have committed a crime, it is appropriate to arrest and try that person, but it is not appropriate to detain anyone without bringing them immediately before a magistrate, in public, and making clear what the government claims that the person has done wrong. That didn't happen here, presumably because the government was relying on provisions in the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that allows the United States government to incarcerate "terrorists" without ever proving any such charge.

If "we the people" are in charge (and I'd like to think we still are), we need to say: "no more hostage-taking."

If you'd ever like to contact your Member of Congress, on any topic, you can click right here for some assistance on how to do that.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

#44 / Extremely Online

The pictures above, of two well-known political figures, come from a column in The New York Times,  "Trump vs. Ocasio-Cortez: Who Will Win the Internet?" The columnist, Kara Swisher, covers technology for The Times, and sums up the discussion this way: "They both know how to control the narrative. But one of them comes across as a human being and the other as a cartoon bobblehead."

I'll let you guess which one is the bobblehead, in Swisher's estimation!

Swisher says that President Trump has been quite effective in using the Internet (and specifically Twitter) to govern the nation. In an earlier column, "All Text and No Subtext," Swisher says, in fact, that "we are now a government of the Twitter, by the Twitter, and for the Twitter." 

Swisher's recent column advises that Trump has more than met his match in Ocasio-Cortez, because Ocasio-Cortez is "extremely online," and President Trump isn't. 

What does it mean to be "extremely online?" Here's Swisher's definition: 

“Extremely Online” — typically capitalized — is usually defined as conducting as much of one’s life online and having as little human contact as possible. But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez embodies and morphs the concept like the digital native she is, meaning simply that she speaks the language of the internet fluently. 
That was made clear by her ability to turn a video of her dancing in a “Breakfast Club” homage at Boston University — posted to hurt her — into a transcendent meta-meme last week. It was accomplished by her offering an expertly rendered bookend, a decade later, as she danced to “War (What Is It Good For)” right by the plaque with her name on it outside her Capitol Hill office. 
And more: Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has done live conversations that include both cooking tips and policy pronouncements, has posted stories of her congressional experience the way others post vacation or holiday or food photos and has clapped back expertly in pithy tweets at whatever gets dished out at her by the right. 
What she is doing is significant for politics, because of one key thing: She has made digital depictions of herself seem very analog. In other words, she is perfectly human online.

Any genuine politics, ultimately, does not take place "online." Life (and politics) is "analogue." I am glad that Ocasio-Cortez is "winning the Internet," in her contest with our bobblehead president, but I am most concerned that we don't all think that "winning the Internet" is what we need to do to maintain an effective system of democratic self-government in these United States!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

#43 / The Hyper-Cooperative Human

“Becoming human”—the phenomenon—is a protracted and extraordinary process that anyone can witness if privileged to observe a child growing up: maturing not just physically but emotionally, socially, cognitively and morally. But before that, of course, becoming human was also an evolutionary process, one that cannot now be witnessed directly but has been intensively studied. Thanks to Michael Tomasello, both processes are, more than ever, becoming demystified and revealed as wonderfully interconnected.

By setting out the quotation above, I intend to refer readers to a book review that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on January 11, 2019: "‘Becoming Human’ Review: The Defining Neediness of Humans."

The author of Becoming Human, Michael Tomasello, is "an American developmental and comparative psychologist... He is co-director of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, co-director of the Wolfgang Kohler Primate Research CenterGermany, honorary professor at University of Leipzig's and at Manchester University's Department of Psychology, and professor of psychology at Duke University."

According to the review in The Wall Street Journal, Tomasello argues that what makes us human, and what has made humans evolutionarily successful, is our ability to cooperate. 

We are all individuals, in other words, but we are also connected together. It is through that connection, collaboration, and cooperation that we have created, and continue to create, our human world. There are certainly different styles and methodologies in which human collaboration - essential for human survival and success - can manifest itself. Whatever style and method we employ, I say it's "politics," and we "live in a political world."

Tomasello's book sounds good. The review is worth reading.

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Monday, February 11, 2019

#42 / Joy To The World

The January 2019, edition of Sojourners magazine had a nice article on "The Aesthetics of Joy." The article referred the reader to a TED Talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee, which you can watch by clicking this link. I thought her talk was pretty good. 

Lee is arguing for the incorporation of joyful design into every part of our communities. That means soft and round shapes, and lots of color. Interior spaces that look like this: 

Not like this: 

I think Lee has a point. Works on outside spaces, too. 

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

#41 / Modern Monetary Theory

I have written about modern monetary theory before (it is called MMT for short). Maybe I should be embarassed about repeating myself, but points worth making are worth making twice. 

This time around, I am recommending an article from In These Times. The article is titled, "PAYGO Is Based on a Fallacy." Pavlina R. Tcherneva, who wrote the article, is an associate professor of economics at Bard College. Tcherneva is arguing that the United States government can dramatically increase spending without raising taxes. That's MMT. 

Nancy Pelosi shows up because Pelosi has told Republicans that she will keep the Democrats in line for "Paygo." Paygo is just the opposite of MMT. The Paygo idea is that before you spend money for one thing, you must raise more taxes or you have to defund something else. Generally speaking, Republicans like the Paygo idea (except where military spending is involved). Democrats? Maybe not so much, though as Pelosi demonstrates, Democrats are not necessarily willing to forsake Paygo for MMT.

Here is what Tcherneva has to say on this topic: 

How will you pay for it? is the wrong question to obsess over. The right question is the more difficult and important one about the impact of government spending on the economy. Did it generate income inequality? Did it cause inflation? Or did it help build an economy that works for all? MMT economists favor policies for shared prosperity, like a federal job guarantee, a Green New Deal, tuition-free college and Medicare for All.

Personally, I think it would be good if our elected representatives were to adopt an MMT approach to government spending. If you really want Paygo, however, let's think about balancing the Paygo equation by adding a job guarantee, a Green New Deal, tuition-free college, and Medicare for all and "paying" for all that additional expenditure by reducing our amazingly bloated military budget.

That idea is worth making even more than twice!

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

#40 / Shepherded, Not Sovereign

In a recent article, published in truthdig, Paul Street is recommending that Americans engage in vigorous and sustained nonviolent civil disobedience. That is the best way, he suggests, to remove President Trump from office.

If you would like to see what vigorous and sustained nonviolent civil disobedience looks like, check out "Bridge to Freedom," Episode VI in the Eyes on the Prize series, a fourteen-part documentary on the Civil Rights Movement, which I just watched, again, a week or so ago.

Eyes on the Prize was originally shown on PBS. In fact, let me recommend that you check out any, or even all, of the episodes that are part of the Eye on the Prize series. They are generally available on YouTube.

In making his recommendation in truthdig, Street cites to Sheldon Wolin. That's pretty good authority, in my book: 

Released in the early spring of 2008, Sheldon Wolin’s classic study “Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism” revealed that the U.S. was no longer a “democracy,” if it ever had been. America, Wolin found, had mutated into a new sort of totalitarian regime wherein economic power and state power were conjoined and virtually unchecked by a demobilized, atomized and politically disinterested populace, conditioned to stay that way. “At best,” Wolin determined, “the nation has become a ‘managed democracy’ where the public is shepherded, not sovereign.”

I don't know about you, but I'm not feeling much like a sheep, these days!

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Friday, February 8, 2019

#39 / A Little Friction Might Be Good

Of all the buzzwords in tech, perhaps none has been deployed with as much philosophical conviction as “frictionless.” Over the past decade or so, eliminating “friction” — the name given to any quality that makes a product more difficult or time-consuming to use — has become an obsession of the tech industry, accepted as gospel by many of the world’s largest companies.
The above quote, from an article by Kevin Roose, appearing in the December 12, 2018, edition of The New York Times, suggests that slowing down might actually be better! Delayed gratification instead of the internet equivalent of the "zipless fuck" made legendary by Erica Jong.

It's something to think about.

Do you think we could convince our president that a little more "friction" might be good before he sends out that next Tweet?

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Thursday, February 7, 2019

#38 / The B.B.I.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is ranked number one on the B.B.I. That is the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, for the uninitiated. It appears that the handsome couple above, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, are having marital problems. Or maybe not. Their incipient divorce is supposed to be friendly.

The main concern, as far as I can tell, seems to be what happens to that #1 ranking on the B.B.I. after they split up the assets and the divorce is final!

Wow! Now that really is a problem!!

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

#37/ Cross v. Gow

Ray Cross, President University of Wisconsin
Chancellor Joe Gow
It is the official position of the University of Wisconsin that the University should respect and promote "free speech" on all of the University's campuses. This commitment to free speech (and how it is being implemented in practice) was the subject of an article in The Wall Street Journal on December 5, 2018:

After disruptive student protests over Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro caught the attention of the state Legislature, the Board of Regents enacted a policy last year guaranteeing free speech on the university’s 26 campuses. UW-La Crosse’s chancellor, Joe Gow, took that renewed commitment to free speech seriously. His office distributed pamphlets on the policy to students, faculty and staff and planned the campus’s first-ever Free Speech Week. “Every day is free speech day on our campus,” he tells me. “That’s what we’re about. That’s the mission.”

Unfortunately for Chancellor Gow, he actually believed that the University was serious about this policy: 

As Mr. Gow considered a subject and speaker for Free Speech Week, he asked students for input. Title IX reform, the #MeToo movement, and Stormy Daniels have all been in the news, so the students wanted to talk about sex. The chancellor invited Nina Hartley, an adult-film performer with a nursing degree who’s spoken on sexuality and pornography at Harvard, Dartmouth, Berkeley and other elite schools.

The upshot was this. After Ms. Hartley had appeared, President Cross sent a Chancellor Gow a reprimand, and threatened to deny him a normal salary increase.

The official policy, as adopted by the Regents, says this: 

It is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they, or others, find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Exploration, deliberation, and debate may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the university community (or those outside the community) to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed.

I think the Regents are right about what kind of debates and discussions should be held on university campuses, and in the case of Cross v. Gow, I am voting for Gow!

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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

#36 / Updating Socrates?

Charles Krauthammer, pictured below Socrates, was a "leaning right" political pundit who apparently compared President George W. Bush to Abraham Lincoln. Krauthammer died in June, 2018. Abraham Lincoln died in April, 1865. George W. Bush is still alive. 

Krauthammer left behind a set of essays, now published in book form under the title, The Point of it All. I have not read Krauthammer's book, but I have read a review, published in my local newspaper on Sunday, January 20th. The review, by Daniel Oppenheimer, contained a line that Oppenheimer said was "core" to Krauthammer's worldview: 

Beware the too-examined life.

According to Oppenheimer, Krauthammer believed that "introspection, self-counsciousness [and] deconstruction...were more likely to be vices than virtues, corrosive to the good life, sound political judgment and global leadership."

Socrates was one of the founders of Western philosophy. He had a different idea. Here is one of Socrates' most famous sayings:

The unexamined life is not worth living. 

Krauthammer did have an advantage that Socrates did not. Krauthammer lived post-Shakespeare, and can be expected to have pondered Hamlet's agonized ruminations about how we often fail to take action, as we ought, when our resolution becomes "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought."

Another pundit, Thomas Friedman (still alive), has "debriefed" the Iraq War, one of the main initiatives of President George W. Bush, whom Krauthammer thought was a Lincoln-like hero. Considering the Iraq War, which has been disastrous in virtually every way, Friedman poses this question to past-president Bush:

What were you thinking?

Now, I guess, with the Krauthammer book, we know the answer. Influenced by the kind of "worldview" espoused by Krauthammer, our president wasn't thinking at all!

As far as I am concerned, Krauthammer's comparison of Bush to Lincoln is not convincing. With all due respect to Krauthammer (and to Shakespeare), when I think about what sort of leader I would like to have guiding our national policy, it strikes me that it would be an advantage, not a fault, to have a leader who "thinks" before that leader acts.

Just to be clear, in other words, as between Krauthammer and Socrates, I am sticking with Socrates!

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Monday, February 4, 2019

#35 / The Shortest Distance

I have come to have a paticular fondness for the pamphlet form of publication.

Pendle Hill, the Quaker retreat center located near Philadelphia, publishes a series of "Pendle Hill Pamphlets," and I subscribe. Every couple of months I get one of these pamphlets (or sometimes two). Each one is on a Quaker-related subject. They are on the order of thirty pages apiece, more or less, and that means that I can promptly read them, in one sitting, and then file them away for future reference.

I have been a subscriber to the Pendle Hill Pamphlet series for years. Each pamphlet must be no more than about 1/8th of an inch in thickness, and my past editions take up just over three feet on the shelf. In checking, I find that the first pamphlet I have is No. 47, titled "The Nature of Quakerism," by Howard Brinton. This is a revision of Pamphlet No. 9, originally published in 1949. The one I have was publsihed in 1962, which is probably when I started subscribing.

Much more recently, I have come across "One Story," a publishing enterprise that delivers one short story each month. Again, this pamphlet style of publishing makes it easy for the reader. You sit down, read the story, and you never lose your place or forget what you were reading because you have had to put down your longer book to go have dinner, or to get some work done, or to take a walk. One sitting is now about the full stretch of my memory; at least, so it sometimes seems to me. The stories are pretty good, too!

The latest Pendle Hill Pamphlet (No. 454 - "The Healing Power of Stories" by Michael Bischoff) had a line which really caught my attention. It's worth repeating:

A story is the shortest distance between two people. 

That does sound about right to me. And according to Bischoff, telling healing stories to oneself (and to others) is actually an avenue to healing itself. 

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Sunday, February 3, 2019

#34 / The Politics Of Work

The Nation magazine, reporting on a new book by Sarah Churchwell, explores what the so-called "American Dream" is all about. 

The Wall Street Journal, in a column by Jason Willick, addresses the "politics of work." 

Both publications (almost polar opposites in their politics) seem to agree that decent and meaningful "work," and not just "money," is what Americans want. That's what those (American) dreams are made of. 

One solution, of course, is to "be your own boss." This is increasingly the only option for many of us, as even major corporations are more and more intersted in hiring contract workers, and less and less interested in providing the type of long-term positions, within a stable business, and with health and other benefits, that were the rule, and not the exception, when I was young. I have made fun, before, of the so-called "gig economy," pointing out that one definition of the word "gig" is a "pronged spear for catching fish." "Gigged," indeed, are the many caught within the "gig economy."

A model not much noted, but with which our nation has actually had some positive experience, is based on the idea that we can be our own boss, but "collectively," not "individualistically." I am referring, of course, to the Works Progress Administration (WPA), deployed as an antidote to the Great Depression during the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Millions of people were employed, in decent and meaningful work. In my view, reviving this model would be one good way to achieve not only economic security, but to achieve "social security," too, in the very broadest sense of that term.

There is nothing impossible about this, of course, just like there is nothing impossible in providing universal health care and a college education to every young person in the country. 

That would require, I must admit, that the wealth of the nation, created by our collective efforts, would have to be deployed to benefit 100% of the people, not just 1%! That is my "American Dream" solution. It's a collective approach, not an individualistic one. It kind of goes along with that suggestion from one of those early Bob Dylan songs“I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.”

Maybe some presidential candidate, or maybe even two, will talk about that next year.

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

#33 / Changing Of The Guards

Here is a question posed by the New York Times columnist David Brooks, in his column published on Tuesday, January 8, 2019. Brooks' column was titled, "Washington's New Power Structure."

There’s one question ... I’d like to ask of practically every member of Congress. Why are you so dispossessed? 
You take all the trouble to run for public office and, against all odds, you actually get in a position to wield influence. But then you accede to a thousand small decisions that you and your predecessors have made, and you give it all away.
There are 535 Americans elected to Congress, but the way things are arranged now only three have real power — Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer. Only a handful of others — in leadership — have a whiff of power. The rest of you have rendered yourselves less powerful, in a way never envisioned by the founders. 
You Senate Republicans are in a double bind because what power you didn’t give to the majority leader you gave to Trump.

Now, that is a good question, David! On January 31, 2018, I pretty much asked the same question, though I posed the question to each one of us, individually, in our capacities as citizens of a democratic country, and thus persons in whose hands governmental power is supposed ultimately to reside. 

I had an answer to my question, as well, and it may be that this same answer would provide a correct explanation for what puzzles Brooks. He wants to know why Members of Congress aren't really trying to deal with the nation's problems, even though they are, of course, officially designated as the persons who are supposed to represent the citizens who elected them, and who are thus supposed to serve as the mechanism by which we, the citizens, achieve self-government. 

Here is my answer from that January 31, 2018 column:

I tend to think that one reason we do not assert our democratic control over our government more than we do is because we would prefer not to be implicated in any admission that we are in charge of what the government is actually doing.

My son recently discovered one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, "Changing Of The Guards." My favorite line from that song goes like this:

Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination 

Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards

It does require courage to assume responsibility for the way things are - and then to assume responsibility for trying to change things, when things are unacceptable. Dylan's lyrics are a poetic way to convey just this point. If "Eden is burning," then we need to have the courage to try to change the unacceptable realities we confront. We will need courage to insist upon a "changing of the guards."

Politically, courage must always come from the "bottom up" (that means us, folks). Eden is burning, and if we lack courage now, then Dylan tells us exactly what to expect.

David Brooks' column and Bob Dylan's insights: same message!

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Friday, February 1, 2019

#32 / More Facts

Are more facts "more better?" Not necessarily, according to Henry Kissinger (pictured above). 

In a column titled, "There goes Jerry Brown, the most interesting man in Sacramento," John Diaz, editorial page editor of The San Francisco Chronicle, tells this story, based on Diaz' conversation with Brown: 

“I think back on something that Henry Kissinger told me, sitting on a beach in Malibu in the ’70s,” Brown recalled. “Kissinger said, ‘You have the most flexibility to act when you have the least amount of information. When it’s very clear, your options are highly limited.’"

Kissinger's observation strikes me as an important one. Knowing "the facts," and having lots of "information," can actually be a disadvantage for a policy maker, as the policy maker tries to decide what to do. Since citizens are the ultimate policy makers, in a democracy, we all need to pay attention to Kissinger's advice. 

But how could it be that what Kissinger said is true? Intuitively, people tend to think that the more information you have, before making a decision, the better off you'll be, and the better decision you'll make. Kissinger is suggesting quite the opposite. 

Here's my thought. We all tend to subject ourselves to the tyranny of the "is." Once we believe that we know "the truth" about something, and that we know what "is," we translate that "is" into an inevitability. In fact, in the human world in which we most immediately live, what "is" will ultimately depend on what we do, because we create all the human realities that then confront us from outside, and seem to be so fixed, firm, and immutable. 

If you "know" something is impossible, becauase you are so certain that you know what "is," you will never be able to do the creative thing that will establish a new reality in the world. 

I am not a big fan of Henry Kissinger, and I am virtually certain that he didn't want ordinary people exercising that creative ability to esacpe what "is" and to make something new happen. He wants the elite (himself and Jerry Brown) to know this magic. In fact, the power that comes from Kissinger's insight is available to us all. 

Right now!

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Thursday, January 31, 2019

#31 / Thoughts Stimulated By A Picture of Mosul

You that never done nothin' 
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy. 
                     - Bob Dylan, Masters of War 

Mosul (Before)
Mosul (Now)
That second photograph is from an article in the December 24 & 31, 2018, edition of The New Yorker. The article is titled, "Iraq's Post-ISIS Campaign of Revenge." What that article describes is horrific. It is an article well worth reading. 

It was the photograph above, though - the "after" photograph - that most forcefully arrested my attention. That photograph spoke to me even more powerfully than all the horrors described and documented in the article. The article talked, largely, about horrors that others are perpetrating. But the physical destruction of the places where human beings live, and have lived for hundreds of years, is the work being accomplished by those "Masters of War" (mostly American) who "build the big bombs." 

How can we accept this? This destruction is being paid for with our money. It is being done in our names. We can see what this is. We can't deny what we see. This is what the United States is doing. Can we really accept this?  

Maybe, of course, we already have. It was largely the United States and its military that accomplished all that is shown below:

Munich, After Bombing
Dresden, After Bombing
Warwaw, After Bombing
Berlin, After Bombing
Hiroshima, After Bombing
Nagasaki, After Bombing
In hundreds of different ways, our government, supposedly under our democratic control, has done and is doing horrendous things. Bombing cities into rubble is only one of them. That kind of destruction is damaging us, too. 

Since World War II, our democratic government has become ever less democratic, as many are now noting, given the autocratic propensities of our current president. But our problem is not simply a matter of one "bad apple" at the top, however bad that apple truly is. Our former president, the "apple of the nation's eye," and especially of those who most dislike the current incumbent, sent waves of drone bombers to terrorize women and children in Muslim countries in the Middle East.

Perhaps, we need to confront rather directly the shame of what our government has done and is doing in our names, and admit our own complicity. These "Masters of War?" You know, that's us! We can't really say we are a democracy unless we admit that when the government takes action it is action taken on our behalf.

I tend to think that one reason we do not assert our democratic control over our government more than we do is because we would prefer not to be implicated in any admission that we are in charge of what the government is actually doing. We have wars without end, and not one of them has been declared by the United States Congress. We are letting people do things in our name that are truly horrific, including the destruction pictured above, in Syria and Iraq, but also things much closer to home. Consider the United States prison system, for instance.

And now, of course, our government is kidnapping babies at our border.

If our system is democratic, we must confess that we are in charge, which means that we must accept the responsibility for what is being done. We can neither pretend not to know, or act as if it were someone else who is bombing ancient cities, and taking other actions that are so horrendous that any decent person would be ashamed to admit that these are actions for which he or she is responsible.

I am coming to think that it is precisely our unwillingness to admit that we are in charge that is increasingly leading to a situation in which we really aren't. We are reluctant to admit that we are in charge because we don't, actually, want to associate ourselves with what the government is doing.  If, however, the majority of the country doesn't support what the government does, then any claim that we are a democratic country begins to be quite problematic. 

Thoughts. Stimulated by that photo of what American weapons have done to Mosul. I want our next president to get elected because she or he will talk about this. What has been done; what has not been done. Our need to reassert our democratic control over whatever this nation does. 

What it is doing now is wrong.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

#30 / Hold Your Horses II

I confess to a "gloom and doom" tendency. As I look around the world, I am quick to spot the problem areas! Still, I refuse to extrapolate from now to the worst case. In every moment, possibility awaits. Our human world is a world we create. 

Predictions are always based on the idea that what now exists, and is now happening, is inevitably going to define our future. On Monday, January 28th, I made clear how much I disagreed with a prediction that our current president was certain to lose his reelection bid in 2020 (presuming he decides to make one, which is likely but not yet confirmed). Yesterday, I pointed out the value of the "supersaturated solution metaphor" as a way to understand how surprising political changes may happen overnight.

Today, I am impelled to call out Chris Hedges for an unconscionable determinism. I love Chris Hedges, particularly as he speaks out against the "American Empire." Hedges' "gloom and doom" perspective on national issues often echoes my own. However, I just can't go with Hedges when he says the following, in a column posted to Truthdig, called "The World To Come": 

The United States is a wounded beast, bellowing and thrashing in its death throes. It can inflict tremendous damage, but it cannot recover (emphasis added).

Hold your horses, Chris. Analysis should lead to action, not submission to a predicted fate. Let's never deny, in the throes of our outraged description of what exists now, and where it's heading, our ability to do something new and unexpected!

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

#29 / Then...All At Once

Politics in Venezuela has been in the news, and there seems to be at least some reason to suspect that the United States government is, once again, trying to overturn the elected government of a South American country, as the United States has done a number of times in the past. That is certainly what Venezeulan President Nicolas Maduro believes

With no apologies for the government of President Maduro, and without stating what I think about the likelihood that the United States is, once again, living up to its bad reputation, I would like to focus on a column about Venezuela that appeared in the Sunday, January 27, 2019, edition of the Santa Cruz Sentinel

The column I am talking about, by Megan McArdle, first ran in The Washington Post. It is titled, "Venezuela’s revolution will keep happening slowly — and then all at once." McArdle's column, first referring to a discussion about events in Mexico, by economist Rudi Dornbusch, describes a political phenomenon which appears unusual, but which is actually more common than we might believe: 

“The crisis takes a much longer time coming than you think, and then it happens much faster than you would have thought, and that’s sort of exactly the Mexican story,” said Dornbusch, who died in 2002. “It took forever, and then it took a night.” 
Dornbusch’s observation was the pithiest and most lyrical summation of what analysts feel when watching countries whose policies are driving them toward some seemingly inevitable catastrophe. You think, “This is mad, it can’t go on,” and then somehow it does go on — and on and on and on — and you think, “Maybe I was wrong, and it can.” 
Then one morning you wake up and it’s over; every slow-moving independent trend has become quite sudden, and all at once, and the thing that has so long seemed like it had to happen, finally does.

As I say, this phenomenon is not uncommon in politics (it is sometimes called "revolution"), and the United States is not immune. There is a physical analogue for this kind of change, too (change that is so slow it doesn't seem like any change is occurring at all... with demonstrable and radical change then happening so rapidly that it doesn't seem like there was anything that came before). 

I invite your study of supersaturated solutions. Clicking this link will get you to a very understandable explanation of the phenomenon, which pretty much appears miraculous when witnessed. 

Certain solid materials are soluable (salts are a good example), and the ability of a liquid to dissolve a  soluable material depends on the temperature of the liquid. When a liquid is "hot," there is more room between the molecules in the liquid, leaving more room for the molecules of the solid to find a place to reside. So.... if you heat up a liquid and then dissolve the solid in that liquid until the liquid will take no more, and then let the liquid cool down, the solution when cooled will be "supersaturated," holding in suspension (invisibly) more of the solid material that it actually can accommodate. The slightest disturbance to the liquid, once cooled, will precipitate the solid material out, extremely rapidly, and the result is something like what you see in the photograph at the top of this blog post. 

As I say, it is amazing to see this done. And in the realm of our political life, these kind of occurrences seem amazing, too. "Miraculous" and "revolutionary" political events do precipitate out of political conditions that seem not to be susceptible to any genuine change. 

This sends, of course, both a hopeful and a cautionary message, when we think of such changes in the realm of politics. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright is warning us about the dangers of fascism suddenly appearing in our country; some more hopeful scenarios are also well within the realm of possibility. 

To my mind, the political lessons of the supersaturated solution are two: (1) First, we should never let ourselves be convinced that the only thing that is "real" is what we currently see; political "miracles" do happen, as Hannah Arendt advises. (2) The key to what is going to precipitate out of a boiling political environment depends on what we stir into it. 

We had better be stirring into our politics a lot of love, tolerance, and good will, or what finally appears, precipitated in just a moment, will be a solid structure of hate, discrimination, and violence. 

Now, I think you have, right there, the message of Albright's book. At least, I hope that's the message, since I am saying this about her book without having read it!

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Monday, January 28, 2019

#28 / Annals Of Prediction: Hold Your Horses!

I read The New York Times every morning, and on Friday, January 25th, I was intrigued to read an Op-Ed piece written by Rachel Bitecofer. That is Bitecofer, pictured above, as she depicts herself on her Twitter page. When not writing Op-Eds for The Times, Bitecofer is Assistant Director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, where she teaches classes on political behavior, campaigns, elections, and political analysis. 

Bitecofer's January 25th Op-Ed is headlined this way: Why Trump Will Lose in 2020. Bitecofer touts  some of her earlier predictions, that turned out to be right, in making the assertion that "we'll spend the next 21 months captivated by an election whose outcome may already be determined...."

It is "negative polarization" that is sure to bring defeat to any Trump reelection effort, at least as Bitecofer sees the future. 

May I suggest that pundits and predictors like Bitecofer try to "hold their horses" just a bit? Past behavior can never predict the future. Tomorrow depends, to a large degree, on a combination of what happened yesterday and what we do today. What we do "today" is always open to innovation and to what Hannah Arendt sometimes calls the "miraculous." In other words, the fact of human freedom is no illusion. We can always do things that are unexpected and unpredictable. I don't like anyone telling me that this isn't true.   

While I appreciate Bitecofer's analysis and argument, and am happy to learn of her past successes at prediction, her headline was way off base. Whatever your reaction to the prediction that "Trump will lose in 2020," my advice is: Don't count on it. That could be a big mistake. The "predictors" said he was going to lose last time, right?

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

#27 / The Underbelly Of Mendacity

Instead of the title I chose, I thought about using the following title for this blog post: "Tuck in your shirt!" Pictured above is Roger J. Stone, Jr., whom The New York Times identifies as a "Trickster Who Is Right Where He Wants to Be." That's the hard copy version, of course. The online version of the article has a slightly different title. 

I was surprised to see that Stone permitted himself to be photographed in such an unflattering way. Look below for the photo that The Times ran with the story that I have linked above. This is how Roger Stone likes to be portrayed. He always seems to be very well put together:

You can see more evidence of Stone's sartorial sensibilities by watching the video of Stone's appearance at The New Yorker Festival in 2016. If you click the link, you can see a video of Stone, and others, discussing "What Would a Trump Presidency Look Like?

The discussion documented in this video took place on October 8, 2016, exactly one month before the presidential election. Stone is impeccably dressed - far better than the other panelists. I was in the audience, and noted, very particularly, what a sharp dresser Stone was. I also heard him brag, during this appearance, about the upcoming WikiLeaks releases that would damage the Clinton campaign, very late in the campaign season. Later on, Stone claimed to have no insider knowledge. That was definitely not the impression Stone gave to the audience at The New Yorker Festival, and as it turns out, Stone subsequently lied under oath about his supposed lack of inside knowledge - at least that is what the Special Counsel says. 

Like many, I am waiting to see whether any "collusion" between the president and Russia is ever documented so clearly that an impeachment of the president would be appropriate. Whether or not that kind of proof is ever forthcoming, the article that ran in The Times yesterday definitely shows that  lots of those associated with Trump have lied about what happened in the 2018 presidential campaign. There is a little "chart" in the article, showing the connections. Stone is there, as are Paul Manafort, Michael D. Cohen, and others. Everyone shown in the chart has been convicted of a crime, except Stone and Konstantin V. Kilimnik, who is now in Russia and thus not susceptible to immediate prosecution. 

Pundits (on the left, admittedly) are saying that a "coverup" of the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia will soon be proven. Things are coming "undone," they say. 

I will wait for actual proof, myself, but in the meantime, the fact that Stone is coming "undone," and isn't "covering up" anymore, letting his underbelly hang out as he makes his pronouncements of innocence, seems like some kind of metaphor to me, some kind of indication that lies and mendacity are coming to light!

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