Tuesday, June 25, 2019

#176 / The Tragedy Response Toolkit

Schools are developing "Tragedy Response Toolkits." Incidents of school violence are ever more frequent. Get prepared for school shootings! That's a reasonable thing to do. 

Police agencies, of course, must also prepare for school violence and terrorist attacks. The federal government Office for Victims of Crime has a Tragedy Response Toolkit to meet this need

And what about the archivists? You know, archivists are the people whose job it is to find and index the documents that can tell future generations about what happened in the past. Don't they need a Tragedy Response Toolkit, too?

It appears they do, and it appears they have one:

The Tragedy Response Initiative Task Force is responsible for 1) creating and/or compiling material for ready accessibility by archivists who are facing a sudden tragedy and 2) exploring the feasibility of creating a standing body within SAA that would update documentation as needed and serve as a volunteer tragedy response team. 
The Task Force is currently drafting templates, examples, and guidelines for institutions who need assistance responding to a disaster. In the meantime, if your institution has an immediate need for the documentation (understanding that these may still be in draft form), please contact the Task Force at saahq@archivists.org.

A friend of mine thought it was sad that even the "archivists" are now getting themselves organized and prepared for the future tragedies and incidents of violence that we all expect to be coming. Why sad? Because we are starting to accept school shootings, shootings in places of employment, and similar mass attacks as a kind of inevitable component of our modern life. 

I do agree that's sad. But what else can we do?

Well, what about a Tragedy Prevention Toolkit? Maybe we all could start working on that!

Image Credit:

Monday, June 24, 2019

#175 / Not Doomed After All?

Writing in The New York Times, Jon Gertner suggests that "We're Not Doomed After All." Gertner is speaking about global warming, which is putting the future of human civilization in peril - not to mention the fact that it is leading to massive extinctions of living things. Gertner thinks there is a "technological fix." 

The illustration above, as a matter of fact, is a graphic representation of one of Gertner's ideas. He suggests that we can use wind power to pump cold ocean water to the surface, to help thicken sea ice.  This idea is just one of the many technological solutions that Gertner suggests ought to be possible. 

The "good news," says Gertner, is that we have an enormous amount of climate knowledge amassed over the past 100 years, and if we would just start using that knowledge, we should have every confidence that our scientific knowhow will ultimately excuse us from having to make "widespread behavioral changes, like consuming less, traveling infrequently and adopting a plant-based diet." 

Ok. Ok. We probably will need to do these things, Gertner admits, but "in the end, it's technology that will save us, not only because it can, but also because it must."

There are some people who regularly read this blog. Such regular readers will know that I don't advocate resignation in the face of any challenge - including the challenge posed by global warming. I did not, for instance, give a positive review to Guy McPherson's visit to Santa Cruz. Speaking about global warming, McPherson explicitly told his local listeners to "give up hope," and to enter into a period of planetary "hospice care," which he claimed is the only proper response to global warming. I was not, and am not, very supportive of this "we're all doomed" message.

Still, and despite my predisposition to believe that we can "do anything" within the human world that we construct, I want to quarrel with Gertner, just as I quarreled with McPherson. Gertner seems to portray "technology" as independent of human (political) choice. Here is Gertner's assertion about that:  "Technology will save us...because it can [and]... because it must."

Well, technology is just human beings doing things. There is no independent "technology" that will come from on high (or from elsewhere) to solve our human-caused problems. In fact, changes in human behavior are needed to confront the global warming crisis, particularly because human behavior has caused it. Various actions have been suggested, including trying to find new technologies that can help, and including efforts to change basic patterns of human activity that we have come to take for granted (like "consuming less"). Gertner's big pitch is for technological approaches, because he wants to minimize the uncomfortable fact (he admits it, as I have already indicated) that big changes in human behavior are necessary. "Consuming less" is right there at the top of the list.

Here is my basic quarrel with Gertner. In positing a "technology" that acts independently of human activity, which is what that sentence about technology actually claims, Gertner is forgetting that humans used to rely on just such an independent, assisting force, working in our favor, and without any effort by us. It was (and is) called Nature. MOTHER NATURE! Very loving and supportive, Nature was assumed to foster and support all life. Gertner apparently thinks human beings should take over running the planetary processes upon which all life on this planet depend. Sea ice thinning? There's a machine that can cure that problem, according to Gertner.

My "Two World Hypothesis" is intended to draw our attention to how foolish this approach is. We live in the World of Nature. We didn't create this World, and we will either live within the limits it imposes or we will die. That just happens to be the fact. Within the human world that we create, which is a "political world," we can do anything. In our human world, we make the "laws." The laws and rules we establish for ourselves, self-prescriptions by which we tell ourselves what we think we should do, have efficacy ONLY within the human world. 

Should human beings really be trying to figure out ways that they can, through technology, determine the thickness of sea ice? Good luck, Jon Gertner! Better to use our vast inventory of scientific and climate knowledge to figure out the limits to which we need to conform. 

Confronted with a global warming crisis that has been caused by our own behavior, there are some things we can do. We can change our behavior, instead of constantly assuming that we can change the Natural Laws that govern the World of Nature into which we were so providentially born. 

We could, for a starter, "consume less."

And get rid of plastics. 


Image Credit:

Sunday, June 23, 2019

#174 / Thanks To The "Tank Man." Then What?

"What Have We Learned Since Tiananmen?" That is the question posed in the headline to a New York Times opinion piece published on June 2, 2019. 

The column was written by Wang Dan, one of the leaders of the Chinese democracy movement that was decimated by a military attack by the Chinese army on unarmed student protesters gathered in Tiananmen Square, in Beijing, on June 4th and 5th in 1989. For those who don't remember the Tiananmen Massacre, or who never heard about this world-changing event, click this link for some background

I found the following statement in Wang Dan's opinion piece quite poignant: 

Our movement failed 30 years ago because we lacked support and experience in promoting democratic change. Many of us had pinned our hopes on the liberal factions of the Communist Party leadership to initiate changes from within the system, but we underestimated the power of the party elders. The massacre shattered our illusions, helping us see the brutality of China’s one-party rule. 
We students were not the only naïve ones. Within a few years of the Tiananmen massacre, many Western governments lifted their sanctions against China. The West’s engagement policy — based on the hope that trade and investment would bring about democratic changes in China — prevailed. 
But instead of instigating liberalization, Western capital fattened the pockets of the Communist Party leaders, giving them the power to prolong their rule by silencing dissent at home and expanding the country’s global clout.

The democracy movement believed that existing leaders would respond positively to demonstrations in favor of change. That didn't work. As it turns out, a "democracy movement" needs to understand that "democracy" does not consist in asking, insistently, that those in power do what the majority would like, or what decency and fairness would require. "Democracy" means "self-government," and those who care about democracy need to understand that it always requires a DIY approach.

No one knows who "Tank Man" was, the solitary student, pictured above, who stood in front of both the reality and the symbol of massive armed power, and who showed, by this action, that opposition to power is always an option, no matter how overwhelming that power may appear. Any democracy movement needs people like "Tank Man," and like Wang Dan himself (shown below), to provide an example that lets the people know that opposition to an intolerable political order is, in fact, possible.

But as Wang Dan's column reveals, this lesson is only the first step to promoting democratic change. All political action begins with a single person, but such political action will be successful only when it leads to the formation of groups that are prepared to take collective action to assume governmental responsibilities themselves. Relying on those who already have power is almost always unavailing, as Wang Dan discovered. The very definition of a "revolution," as described by Hannah Arendt in her excellent book, On Revolution, is that ordinary men and women no longer rely on those who currently wield power, but simply assume, directly, governmental powers themselves.  

What have we "learned since Tiananmen?" We have learned that when we hope that changes will come from "within the system," we will usually be hoping in vain. We need to take power ourselves, not hope that someone else will, at long last, treat us as we ought to be treated. 

That is not a lesson specific to China!

Image Credits:
(1) - http://derfcity.blogspot.com/2014/06/tank-man.html
(2) - https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/01/opinion/sunday/tiananmen-protests-china-wang-dan.html

Saturday, June 22, 2019

#173 / Haphazard Self

David Brooks, a political and cultural commentator for The New York Times, addressed the topic of social and political "detachment" in one of his recent columns. He titled the column, "The Rise of the Haphazard Self." 

Among other things, Brooks said that a society can only be called healthy when its culture counterbalances its economics. That is to say, if a nation's economics is capitalistic, and emphasizes individual self-interest (as ours does), then the nation's culture needs to celebrate "cooperation, stability and committed relationships."

Guess what? We fail the test. Brooks believes that "we have a culture that takes the disruptive and dehumanizing aspects of capitalism and makes them worse." I can't really disagree with that!

Brooks has a proposed solution. He has created a group he calls #WeaveThePeople. Somehow, I don't think that the founding fathers would be as pleased with this "update" to the Preamble to our Constitution as Brooks probably assumes they would be. The Preamble says that the purpose of the Constitution is to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and [to] secure the Blessings of Liberty."

Contrast that with the purpose of #WeaveThePeople, which will be attempting to "build thick communities, so everybody, including detached young men (see the picture above), will have a chance to be enmeshed in thick and trusting relationships."

Here is the way I dope it out. Brooks thinks our culture reflects, way too much, the cutthroat capitalistic system that wants to "keep all options open," and that postulates that we are all individuals, and only individuals. I'm with him right to this point. Brooks then suggests that efforts to build cultural connections can offset these detrimental effects. Culture will trump economics, as we build "thicker" communities that weave us together in "enmeshed" lives. 

I do believe that we should realize that we are "together through life," relying on Bob Dylan's phrasing, but my suggestion on how to get there from here does not run through seminars in the nation's capital promoting "thickness." I think we need to restore genuine self-government, a government that is not only "for" the people, but that is "of" and "by" the people, first and foremost. 

When individuals participate, themselves, in the politics by which we jointly construct the world in which we live, those individuals become, automatically, "enmeshed." 

We "live in a political world," and the culture reflects our politics, not the other way around. If we want to change our culture, as we ought to, we need to change our politics first.

Image Credit:

Friday, June 21, 2019

#172 / The Billionaire Class

Consider today's posting a follow-up to my blog posting yesterday!

On September 29, 2014, even before he started running for president for the first time, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders posted an item on his political website. He titled this posting, "The Billionaire Class." That posting is still online (or at least it was as of today's date), and Sanders makes frequent reference to this way of talking about the extremely wealthy. I bet Sanders has made use of that "Billionaire Class" phrase hundreds, if not thousands of times, since he began running for president. 

There are a lot of billionaires in the world (well, not compared to the number of people in the world, of course), but it's not just one or two! According to a recent article in Forbes, there are 2,153 billionaires. A lot of them live in the United States, but Great Britain has a "Billionaire Class," too. In 2014 - the same year in which Sanders' article appeared - Vice reported that the United Kingdom was home (at that time) to 109 billionaires. The main purpose of the Vice article was to list "The Ridiculous Shit the UK’s Billionaires Spend Their Cash On."

I like the "Billionaire Class" designation. It draws attention to an important category - the category of those who possess a great deal more wealth than they need, or can even spend, without being "ridiculous" about it. My thought - and this is what Bernie Sanders has been saying since he began running for president - is that such enormous wealth, currently held by a relatively small number of individuals, ought to be utilized in more socially constructive ways than it currently is. No more spending on "ridiculous shit" when people are sleeping outside, and can't get the medical care they need. 

I was also struck by an article in The New York Times, which documented some of the current spending of the "Billionaire Class" in New York City. Such spending continues to be both "ridiculous" and obscene. In laying this out, The Times came up with some new nomenclature, too. Instead of calling the super-rich "The Billionaire Class," The Times' article denominates them as "the Absolutely Ridiculously Obscenely Rich." That's AROR for short. 

Whatever you call them, the super-rich really should be making a much bigger contribution to the common good. That's my opinion, at least, and I think that the election in 2020 can have a big impact on deciding whether or not they will. 

Wasn't it Frederick Douglass who said, "power concedes nothing without a demand?"

Time for the voters to start demanding!

Image Credit:

Thursday, June 20, 2019

#171 / Then...Whoa!

If you click the picture above, it should get larger. The chart appeared in an article written by Frances Moore Lappé, which was published on the website of the Small Planet Institute

The chart shows income growth in the United States during two different time periods. On the lefthand side (the blue bars), the chart shows income growth during the period from 1947 to 1973. On the righthand side (the red bars), the chart shows income growth from 1974 to 2004. Each of the columns represents a "quintile," with the fifth of the families who had the lowest income shown on the lefthand side of the chart and those who had the highest income shown on the righthand side. Here's how Lappé puts it: 

In ten columns is the tale of two generations. The blue bars capture the late 1940s through the early ‘70s when real family income roughly doubled for every income quintile, with the poor gaining the most.

Then…whoa! From the early ‘70s through the early 2000s, progress slows radically and the pattern of who gains most reverses: The richest score big time, while the poorest advance virtually not at all. Such dramatically deepening inequality has continued to worsen, not only reducing economic opportunities but shortening lives as well: The life-span gap between the richest and poorest American males is 15 years, and in recent years, overall longevity has declined.

Lappé's analysis is as follows:

In the first period (blue bars), Americans absorbed the notion that we could all advance together — that government was established to support the “general welfare.” After all, that is what our constitution’s preamble affirms as a purpose of our government.

The first period benefited from FDR’s New Deal that catalyzed sweeping gains for all Americans — from establishing the minimum wage and Social Security, to strengthening workers’ rights to organize, to bolstering banking industry rules. Well into mid-century, both Republicans and Democrats embraced government as a partner in setting standards and expanding opportunity.

Republican Dwight Eisenhower ran on a platform that included the pledge to “more effectively protect the rights of labor unions” and to “assure equal pay for equal work regardless of sex”; Democrat Lyndon Johnson launched the War on Poverty, which helped cut the poverty rate almost in half between 1959 and 1969; and Republican Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air act into law in 1970.

But soon, the business community feared it was losing ground and began actively, and effectively, putting forth an opposing story, as laid out in Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. In 1971, the Chamber of Commerce commissioned a corporate lawyer, Lewis Powell, to prepare a game plan, known now as the “Powell Memo,” for regaining ground for business. Soon thereafter, in 1977, Ronald Reagan warned Americans to “use the vitality and the magic of the marketplace to save this way of life.” And by 1981, he famously declared, “in this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

It appears that "collective" approaches to social policy work out for the best. "Individualistic" approaches make things worse for all but the extremely rich. That is basically what Lappé is saying in her article, "The Shocking Tale of Two Generations." It doesn't take too long to read her article. It's worth reading. 

I think she's right!

Image Credit:

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

#170 / Twinkle, Twinkle, Winklevoss

The Winklevoss twins (Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, pictured from left to right in the picture above) hung out with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard University (before Zuckerberg quit school to found Facebook and become a billionaire). 

Actually, Zuckerberg stole the whole idea of Facebook from the twins, and then cut them out of the deal. That is their story, anyway. A recent article and book review, in the "Datebook" section of The San Francisco Chronicle, refreshes our recollection about the Winklevoss past, and then gives us an update on their latest doings.

And what are those latest doings? Well, those doings are presented in a new book by Ben Mezrich, Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption. That's right, the Winklevoss twins, having been edged out by Zuckerberg (that's the "betrayal" part) have come back strong. They, too, are now billionaires, all thanks to cryptocurrency. Being a billionaire equals "redemption," the way Mezrich sees it. 

I have no strong position on who is the best (or worst) billionaire, as between Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins. I am probably a "plague on both their houses" type, and an equal opportunity detractor. I am drawing your attention to this article for one reason only. I want to urge some caution as we contemplate eliminating any governmental responsibility for maintaining the integrity of our currency. Mezrich, in the "Datebook" article, suggests that making government responsible for the integrity of our money is dangerous. 

Well, sure. I guess. Mezrich says that "in Cyprus, literally overnight, they just took everyone's deposits, took a percentage of everyone's money [and] up to 50% of your money just vanished the next day." That sounds bad! But when that happens with cryptocurrency, there isn't anyone against whom you have recourse, because the system is set up so that "no one" is in charge. Government does bad things, but government isn't bad in and of itself, which is the implication of the Mezrich argument. When the government is responsible for the integrity of our money supply, we do have an opportunity to make the government respond to what we think is right and just. With cryptocurrency, as far as I can determine, we don't have that option.

With all deference to Mezrich and the Winklevoss twins, I don't think that cryptocurrency makes us safer. The Winklevoss twins are billionaires. They are "geniuses." Hooray for them! Just make sure that the next cryptocurrency billionaires don't get to be billionaires by stealing YOUR money. 

That is my advice!

Image Credit:

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

#169 / Green Imperialism

One might think that a publication supporting progressive policies would be delighted that a presidential candidate is demanding that the United States military start taking action to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are putting all life on the planet in harm's way. That includes human life, too, just in case that might have escaped your notice.

Elizabeth Warren, sometimes called Elizabeth ("I have a plan for that") Warren,  does have a plan for how the U.S. military can "help lead the fight against climate change."

Truthdig calls Warren's plan "Green Imperialism." That strikes me as just a tad unfair.

I do think that the United States acts with an imperialistic hubris that assumes that the United States should be the last arbiter of what happens on Planet Earth. I would like to hope that the next President of the United States might start redirecting current military efforts into more positive channels. Our country should start taking steps to eliminate expenditures on military activities aimed at destroying things, and redirect such expenditures into activities that would have a positive impact on the natural environment and on human beings. Current spending patterns are aimed at this:

Spending billions to develop (and then use) weapons to kill and destroy is not what our country should be doing. I totally agree with Truthdig on that point.

BUT.... all of our national activities, whatever they are, should also be aimed at eliminating, or reducing to the greatest degree possible, contributions to the greenhouse gas emissions that have led to the global warming that imperils our future, and the future of all living things.

I am happy that Elizabeth Warren is making clear that she wants to do more than "say" the right things, and that she has some ideas about how to make concrete and specific changes that might actually reduce our greenhouse gas and global warming footprint.

Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/elizabeth-warren-could-get-america-to-have-more-kids-again/2019/02/22/71167be8-36de-11e9-af5b-b51b7ff322e9_story.html?utm_term=.8bc310643b97
(2) - https://criticalstudies.org/name-the-six-countries-the-u-s-is-bombing-in-the-middle-east-us-politics/

Monday, June 17, 2019

#168 / And Now... A Word From The Chancellor

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, pictured above, has been given an honorary degree by Harvard University. She made a speech, too, of course. The New York Times ran an article on the speech on Friday, May 31st. The Economic Times carried an article about the speech, too, and that is where I got the picture. 

Merkel is an extraordinary political leader. It is worth reading the articles I have linked in this blog posting, to see what she had to say to the Harvard graduates. The following statement, from The Times article, stood out to me: 

"I experienced firsthand how nothing has to stay the way it is,” she said. “This experience, dear graduates, is the first thought I wish to share with you: Anything that seems set in stone or inalterable can indeed change."

The political landscape we see when we look around us is bleak. Just as bleak as the face of that Berlin Wall that Merkel faced from its Eastern side.

Merkel is right. When the apparent and disastrous immobility of our political world suggests that we should despair, remember Merkel's "first thought."

ANYTHING can change.

I would translate Merkel's remark this way: ANYTHING can BE changed.

It is up to us to do it!

Image Credit:

Sunday, June 16, 2019

#167 / What To Do If "Politicians" Don't Care

Pictured above is Alicia Garza, who co-founded the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013. On May 29, 2019, a column she wrote appeared in The New York Times

Garza's column was titled, "Dear Candidates: Here's What Black People Want." The column provides a report on findings from a statistically valid survey of Black people, carried out under the aegis of the Black Census Project, which Garza initiated in 2018. 

Garza's article is definitely worth reading. One specific line struck home to me: 

Fifty-two percent of respondents said that politicians do not care about black people, and one in three said they care only a little.

Here is what struck me about this particular statement: The question presented to those people being surveyed apparently suggested that "politicians" were, in some fundamental way, different from those answering the survey questions. There was an implicit assumption at the base of the inquiry. That assumption was that "politicians" are in a separate category, and are thus to be differentiated from from the ordinary people who were being asked to give their opinion about whether or not these "politicians" care about Black people.

Here is my reaction: It is natural to assume that "politicians" are different from the rest of us, and that they are a special category. I doubt that race has anything to do with this assumption, either; I think it is likely that white people would have answered the survey in just about the same way, had the question been, "how much do you think politicians care about white people?"

The fact is, most citizens do not believe that "politicians" care very much about the people, period. That is a general feeling, and most citizens do believe that "politicians" are in some sort of category that is different from the category of "citizens," or the category of "ordinary people."

Those in that "politician" category don't really care very much about anybody (except probably about themselves). I think that this is a generally held assumption, or maybe "conclusion" is a better word, since this observation can be buttressed by an examination of how those "politicians" act.

Here is what I thought, having had this reaction: In a nation that truly believes in (and practices) democratic self-government, the "politician" category disappears. All citizens are allowed to, and expected to, participate in politics, and so instead of a separate category of "politicians," put in charge of the government, we understand that all citizens are ultimately in charge of the government, and what the survey calls "politicians" are in no separate category at all. They are simply those citizens who have been elected (at a particular time and place) to represent all the citizens in an official capacity.

To put our brand of democratic self-government in historical perspective, it has been our official belief that we have a government, "of," "by," and "for" the people. If we assume that "politicians" are the only ones who get to make governmental decisions, then the key question is whether the decisions they make are "for" the people. If they are not, then it's pretty clear why those so-called "politicians" are held in low repute.

However, if we see ourselves as truly self-governing, and we know, believe, and experience a government that is actually "of" and "by" the people, then it is "the people," and not "the politicians," who are responsible for the state of our government.

A lot of people are hanging around today, bemoaning the fact that the "politicians" are not really acting "for" the people, and that they do not seem to "care" about the people, or that they only "care a little."

Let's remember that WE are the ones in charge. If our elected representatives don't "care," then there is a clear remedy. In our system of democratic self-government, it is OUR option to vote our representatives out of office if we don't like what they are doing - and if they simply don't seem to "care" about the things we care about. A government "of" the people, and "by" the people, is almost always going to be a government that is "for" the people. To the degree that we are not exercising our powers of self-government, it should be no surprise that those who have assumed our governmental powers, the "politicians," are performing in a way we don't like.

Imprisoned by bad government, and by a government that just doesn't "care?" Well, the key to that kind of prison is in our own hands.

Image Credit:

Saturday, June 15, 2019

#166 / Character Is Destiny

While a legal decision about her behavior as CEO lies in the future, the verdict on her character appears to be in. Elizabeth Holmes is a fraud.
This judgment, proclaiming Elizabeth Holmes a "fraud," comes from a recent article in Alternet.

Another recent article, from the Mercury News, highlights comments by Phyllis Gardner, a professor of medicine at Stanford University. Gardner, who knew Holmes when Holmes was a student, similarly concludes that "fraud" is the right word to describe her.

The quotation excerpted from the Alternet article, and placed under Holmes' picture, above, refers to an important distinction. In human affairs, what is "good" is not the same thing as what is "legal." What we think of as "bad" actions may, in fact, be perfectly "legal," and it is certainly not true that all "legal" actions must be counted as "good." 

In its article about Elizabeth Holmes, who founded the company Theranos, Alternet is arguing that we should be paying more attention to the "character" of our leaders, instead of focusing our attention on whether or not they have acted "legally." I definitely agree with that! It is important to note, however, that in using the word "fraud" with respect to Holmes' behavior, both Alternet and Phyllis Gardner are utilizing a word that does have a distinctly "legal" meaning

Fraud is generally defined in the law as (1) an intentional misrepresentation of material existing fact (2) made by one person to another with (3) knowledge of its falsity and (4) for the purpose of inducing the other person to act, and (5) upon which the other person relies with resulting injury or damage. Fraud may also be made by an omission or purposeful failure to state material facts, which nondisclosure makes other statements misleading.

The numbered phrases are all necessary to find that "fraud" exists. Those are the "elements" of the crime. Before characterizing someone as a "fraud," thus, the more cautious approach might be to wait for the trial. The "is" word, which always states a purported equivalency, doesn't leave any space for the idea that a claim that someone acted illegally ought to follow, not precede, a judicial determination in which the accused has the due process right to mount a defense.

Alternet says that "Elizabeth Holmes [equals] a fraud," and cites to the fact that Holmes typically wore a black turtleneck, in imitation of Steve Jobs. In all fairness, that does not, at least to my mind, indicate that all the elements of "fraud" are present. Something about this Alternet article on Holmes struck me wrong, even though I completely agree that "character" is always key to a proper evaluation of a person's life and conduct, which is one of the main points that Alternet makes.

In trying to puzzle it out, and to discover why I felt uncomfortable with these articles using the word "fraud" (though I hold no brief for Elizabeth Holmes or Theranos), I decided that I was uneasy for the following reason. 

Assignments of personal responsibility (as in a judgment that says that a person "is" a fraud), are the kind of judgments that really do call for some kind of a "trial," for some kind of official determination, in which both sides get to be heard. A "trial," of course, does do that.

Instead of focusing on Holmes and her alleged "fraud," and assigning personal responsibility without giving Holmes the right to defend herself, I think the Alternet article might have more correctly focused on the collective failure of those whom Alternet says that Holmes "defrauded." Those who invested in Holmes' business failed to use good judgment. What about the character of her high-profile and prestigious Board Members? What about all those prestigious people who gave her lots of money and touted Theranos? What about their character? Don't they have some responsibility for having been so wrong? 

Our society is more and more willing to accept "hype" and overstatement as a foundation for decisions about what we ought to do, and about where we should invest our resources. We celebrate Uber and Tesla. It seems to me that they are rather high on hype and overstatement. They may well turn out to be economic failures, just as Holmes' company, Theranos, was. The Theranos story, in other words, could be a learning experience for all of us, if we understand that what happened was a collective failure to verify before proceeding. To my mind, the damages caused by the Theranos debacle (and they are real) cannot be so easily attributed to one person (a "fraud"), if that means that we let everyone else off the hook. 

Personal blame and shame? Let's have a "trial" before we state our judgment (in other words, in this case, let's hear from Holmes, too, as well as those who accuse her of "fraud").

Beyond affixing personal responsibility when a "fraud" has been perpetrated, we have a collective responsibility when we start believing something that "just ain't so." I think that what happened with Theranos is a reflection on the character of those who invested, and believed in, and promoted Holmes and her company, as much as it reflects on the character of Holmes, who beguiled so many.

Let's look to our own willingness to build a society on hype. That is at least as big a danger as the presence of those "frauds" who will use our own lack of judgment and good character to "take us for a ride," and to relieve us of money that we can't afford to lose. The name "Bernie Madoff" comes to mind. Remember him?

If we don't watch out for our own susceptibility to hype, we will soon be back bemoaning the character of those whom we will denominate as "frauds,"  after we have made the error of trusting them, and what they say, without requiring appropriate verification. Only if we take our own responsibilities seriously will we avoid being gulled by the "frauds" who are beguiling us all, even now!

Image Credit:

Friday, June 14, 2019

#165 / H - A - T - E (It Will Only Take Two Minutes)

Chris Hedges, who writes for Truthdig, reminds us that George Orwell's book, 1984, depicted a political world in which everyone was called upon, periodically, to indulge in "two minutes of hate." 

Hedges says that the mainstream media are orchestrating this practice in the world of today. He makes a pretty good case, too, in an article worth reading

Mass media has degenerated into not only a purveyor of gossip, conspiracy theories and salacious entertainment but, most ominously, [into] a purveyor of hate. Matt Taibbi, the author of “Hate Inc.: How, and Why, the Media Makes Us Hate One Another,” has dissected modern media platforms in much the same way that Herman and Chomsky did the old media. 
The new media, Taibbi points out, still manufactures consent, but it does so by setting group against group, a consumer version of what George Orwell in his novel “1984” called the “Two Minutes Hate.” Our opinions and prejudices are skillfully catered to and reinforced, with the aid of a detailed digital analysis of our proclivities and habits, and then sold back to us. The result, Taibbi writes, is “packaged anger just for you.” The public is unable to speak across the manufactured divide. It is mesmerized by the fake dissent of the culture wars and competing conspiracy theories. Politics, under the assault, has atrophied into a tawdry reality show centered on political personalities. Civic discourse is defined by invective and insulting remarks on the internet. Power, meanwhile, is left unexamined and unchallenged. The result is political impotence among the populace. The moral swamp is not only a fertile place for demagogues such as Donald Trump—a creation of this media burlesque—but channels misplaced rage, intolerance and animosity toward those defined as internal enemies.

As I recently confessed (in a blog posting about the music of the '60s), I pretty much missed my chance to participate in the delights of that era. How could I have been so oblivious? How could I have let slip my chance to experience "Sex, drugs, and rock and roll?" 

Well, I do remember some things. I remember some of those sixties songs. One of them prescribed an antidote to hate. It is still worth singing that song!

Right now!!

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

#164 / One More Sunbeam (That's Our Problem)

The latest edition of The Sun magazine showed up in my mailbox recently. You can, by the way, get a free trial issue, if you'd like, by just clicking this link and going from there. 

I often turn to the "Sunbeams" section of the magazine first. That section comes right at the end and has various quotations that both energize and inspire. 

This time around, readers heard from Howard Zinn (among other persons). What Zinn had to say is worth passing along: 

Civil disobedience . . . is not our problem. . . . Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is the numbers of people all over the world who have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government. . . . Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem. 
                    Howard Zinn

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

#163 / ...Or Behaving Like One

Fans of the Golden State Warriors, those "Authentic Fans" upon whom the Warriors most heavily rely, have undoubtedly been having a hard time during the NBA Finals. There has been a lot of spilled ink on what has been widely discussed, among other things, as a kind of disappointing and discouraging "moral collapse" by the NBA Champions - or, at least, that is how I would characterize it. 

I, personally, have been disappointed by, and have bemoaned, the decision of the team's ownership to leave Oakland and Oracle Arena behind. During the finals, substantiating my own feelings that arrogant "rich guys" are running roughshod over what has always seemed to me, since I started following the team a few years ago, an amazingly inspirational and collective approach to basketball, it was revealed that the Warriors ownership group includes such rich guys as Mark Stevens, who was banned from future games because he used his courtside seat physically to push a member of the Toronto Raptors team, accompanying his physical assault with an insult. 

Things have been somewhat disappointing and discouraging for Warriors fans, this incident being just one example. So, for any "Authentic Fans" who may be feeling either discouraged or disoriented, let me commend a column by sportswriter Ray Ratto, just published yesterday.

After discussing some specifics about how the Warriors have competed in the Finals, and after commenting on some of the feelings I mention above, Ratto talks about the challenges facing the Warriors on Thursday, and then again on Sunday, should the Warriors tie up the series in the Thursday game at Oracle. A Warriors' win, on either day, is far from certain. Smart money, in fact, would probably bet against the Warriors. More to the point, perhaps, whether the Warriors win or lose in the NBA Finals, what fans have been able to experience with the Warriors is probably coming to an end. Ratto really says that.

Nonetheless, Ratto has these encouraging words about the Warriors, as he contemplates the end: 

They will either go out a champion or go out behaving like one.

It strikes me that this is not only a correct judgment about the Warriors, but also a kind of advisory to us all, basketball fans or not. It's a thought about how we should all understand and approach our own lives. 

If we are feeling discouraged and disappointed about the Warriors, let's admit that we are discouraged and disappointed about ourselves, too - at least sometimes. I know I disappoint myself. Still, the Warriors do provide the kind of "moral model" that has sustained the team, and their fans, despite occasions of discouragement. The Warriors are more than a collection of outstanding "individuals." They know, bone deep, that they are "together in the game." Members of the Warriors' team are not just individuals, but a "community" on the court. 

Whatever happens, they will go out behaving like champions. 

I am hoping I can say the same about my own life, when it's time!

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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

#162 / Ahead Of Its Time? (Its Time Is Coming)

Depicted above is the Kashgar Bazaar in the Xinjiang region of China. In a recent article in The San Francisco Chronicle, Chris Buckley and Paul Mozur advised possible visitors that this historic marketplace is surrounded by a "virtual cage." 

Developed and sold by the China Electronics Technology Corp., a state-run defense manufacturer, the system in Kashgar is on the cutting edge of what has become a flourishing new market for services and equipment that the government can use to monitor and subdue millions of Uighurs and members of other Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang. 
Treating a city like a battlefield, the platform was designed to “apply the ideas of military cybersystems to civilian public security,” Wang Pengda, a CETC engineer, said in an official blog post. “Looking back, it truly was an idea ahead of its time.”

In the last month or so, I have been making postings to this blog warning that "war" is not really the right way to think about how best to address human problems. "War" is not the right metaphor. Most recently, I have contended that "War Doesn't Work." 

China is not the only country that is rolling out the kind of high-tech "security" systems that are now surveilling the population of Xinjiang province. Both Great Britain and New York City are heading in exactly the same direction.

If we start treating our cities like they are "battlefields," then we are all the enemy!

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Monday, June 10, 2019

#161 / Crossing The Line

The San Francisco Chronicle is Nancy Pelosi's hometown paper. Generally speaking, the Chronicle strongly supports her positions. Not on Saturday, June 8, 2019, however. 

On that date, the paper ran a short editorial statement with this headline: "Pelosi crosses the line with 'prison' comment." I am reprinting the entire statement, below, because I think it provides a warning to all of us. We are facing a politics that seems to be spinning out of control, and keeping "steady as she goes" is a political virtue not to be underestimated. Those who would like to return some basic decency to our national politics properly deplore calls to "Lock Her Up" (meaning Hillary Clinton). These are part of the standard agenda at rallies promoted by our current president, Donald Trump. The Chronicle suggests that those who feel this way should not be imitating him:

Pelosi crosses the line with ‘prison’ comment 
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been steadfastly strategic in her restraint amid a growing clamor within the Democratic ranks to begin impeachment proceedings. Pelosi has insisted “nothing is off the table,” but House committees should first proceed with their investigations and gather the evidence that could produce a “very compelling case to the American people.” 
So it was disturbing to learn from Politico, citing “multiple sources,” that Pelosi told a group of senior Democrats, “I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison.” There may or may not be a case for criminal prosecution after President Trump leaves office, but for the speaker to advocate for it out loud, even behind closed doors, undermines her efforts to keep the impeachment talk at bay. It’s hard to argue that a president who belongs in prison should stay in office for another minute. 
Even worse is the notion — so cavalierly practiced under tin-pot dictatorships or expressed by the 45th president of the United States — that locking up one’s political opponents is an acceptable exercise of power. Let the congressional investigations proceed with vigor, fearlessness — and toned-down rhetoric.

What Diaz is saying, the way I read him, is that Trump is not a good role model, and that there is another way to get rid of that guy. It's called an election. Of course, not everyone agrees with Diaz, as a letter to the editor from Eleanor Fischbein, printed in today's Chronicle, makes clear.

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Sunday, June 9, 2019

#160 / Twitter Tirades? Definitely Nasty!

My blog posting yesterday cited to an article in The New York Times that reported that our president got involved in a rather "nasty" name-calling incident while in Great Britain. The story prominently featured the president's use of Twitter, the online news and social networking service. 

Twitter, it appears, tends to bring out the "nasty" in everyone. While our president is definitely leading the pack, it does seem that offensive personal commentaries are a genuine Twitter staple. Take, for instance, the behavior of Georgia Clark, a [now former] Texas high school English teacher. Clark is pictured below:

Ms. Clark used Twitter to make an appeal to President Trump to "remove the illegals that are in [the] public school system." She made other statements on the same topic, some of the statements being so offensive that The Times alluded to, but did not repeat, her exact language. 

The teacher apparently thought that her Twitterings were winging their way directly to the president's private ear, as though they were bird-billed private messages. How unfortunate for her to discover that Twitter technology made sure that her prejudiced remarks were broadcast widely. Upon learning about her Tweets, the Board of Trustees of the Fort Worth Independent School District voted unanimously to fire her.

I do have a personal Twitter account, but have resisted, so far, the temptation to fire off negative personal remarks whenever such remarks come to mind. It may be just the legacy of my parents' injunction: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." However, I do think that there is more to it than that. Over time, maybe by reading Hannah Arendt about "plurality," I have come to believe that neither I, nor anyone else, has any access to something called "truth," when that word is used to delineate what is definitively right or correct in the political world in which we most immediately live.

If such a "truth" were accessible to us, there might even be an obligation to fire off Twitter-based salvos whenever we perceived some contradiction to this "right order." None of us, however, can claim to have access to a "truth" that trumps the views of other people. What we have is multiple "opinions," and we need a way to work through the diversity that is inherent in our plural existence to try to find ways of living together that are reasonable and acceptable to most. Thoughtful discussion, not dismissive put downs, and Twitter tirades, are how to advance our political discourse.

I have some genuine regret that the Fort Worth schoolteacher didn't understand this - and that her misunderstanding came from following the bad example provided by our president. A compelling article in the June 7, 2019, edition of The New York Times, entitled, "A Selfie, a Slur and a Fissure in One School's Silence About Race," shows how such a discussion about racial discrimination in our schools might have been accomplished. That story, too, started with social media put downs, leading to political controversy and condemnation, but the result seems to have been rather heartening. Maybe that Fort Worth School District ought to follow the Minnesota model profiled most recently in The Times' story

Image Credits:
(1) - https://logos-download.com/169-twitter-logo-download.html
(2) - https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/05/us/teacher-tweets-trump-georgia-clark.html

Saturday, June 8, 2019

#159 / Nasty? Or Not?

In an interview with a British tabloid newspaper, the President of the United States apparently called the Duchess of Sussex "nasty." The Duchess was, prior her marriage to a member of the British Royal Family, just plain old Meghan Markle, an American citizen born in Los Angeles. 

As is not unusual, the president promptly used his Twitter account to deny that he said what he actually said. It was all "fake news," claimed president Trump. You can read all about this incident in a recent article that ran in The New York Times. Online, the headline is as follows: "An Orwellian Tale? Trump Denies, Then Confirms, ‘Nasty’ Comments About Meghan Markle."

The Times news story went all "literary" on its readers, reminding them of George Orwell's novel, 1984:

The president’s critics — armed with audio from The Sun interview — began circulating a line in the dystopian novel “1984,” written by George Orwell: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
The passage, taken from a book imagining what could happen when free thought is silenced, has become a refrain of sorts, used each time the president denies comments of his caught on camera or audio. A prime example: Mr. Trump said he never called Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, “Tim Apple,” even though there was video of the president doing just that.

Believe what I say, not what you see? That really is "nasty!"

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Friday, June 7, 2019

#158 / I Don't Want An Exciting President

The sentiments featured in the headline above do not, necessarily, reflect my personal views. This is what the headline said on a column by Michelle Goldberg, published in the May 21, 2019, edition of The New York Times. A "pull quote" from that column adds some insight as to what she is writing about: 

Biden makes his supporters feel safe, but nominating him is risky.

Goldberg's point is this: your decision on whom to support for President (and I would say on whom to support for any other office) should NOT be based on your judgment about the hypothesized "electability" of the candidate you choose to support. Trying to predict "electability" in advance may well not work. A column by Sonali Kolhatkar, an editor at Truthdig, makes the same point. 

I basically agree with Kolhatkar and Goldberg. Read Goldberg's column to get some examples of why the "electability" approach to picking a candidate is not necessarily the right way to win elections. 

Looking at things from a theoretical perspective, which is the way I tend to think about democratic self-government, the purpose of elections is to allow for debate and discussion about what the government should do, with each individual voter then casting his or her vote for the candidate whom the voter believes will best carry forward the particular policies that the voter prefers. If we are afraid to vote for candidates who will advance our own ideas of what the nation needs to do (because we decide that it is impossible for them to win), we are castrating the democratic process.

A political party that does that deserves to lose, and as Goldberg notes, such parties often do lose!

Goldberg doesn't mention the 2016 Democratic Party primary election, in which the Democratic National Committee did what it could to make sure that the person they thought most "electable" got the nomination (supposedly, Hillary Clinton). This is another example that could be added to her list. Here is Goldberg's bottom line: 

Intensity — the thing that turns a campaign into a movement, that leads people to donate more than they can afford, host house parties and spend their free time knocking on the doors of strangers’ houses — matters. That’s especially true in a country as polarized as ours, where turnout is as important as persuasion. Ultimately, the paradox of primaries is that it’s most strategic to ignore the experts and follow your emotions.

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Thursday, June 6, 2019

#157 / A Duel In Heaven

This Quarter, I am teaching a Legal Studies course at UCSC, LGST 196. In this course, graduating seniors in the Legal Studies Program must submit a "Capstone Thesis." The deadline for submission of the final thesis is coming up in just a few days.

Earlier this Quarter, when it was time for students to submit a draft of their thesis, two different students reported that they had completed their drafts, but then their computers had failed, and that they had lost everything they had prepared. Thus, they couldn't turn in their drafts by the deadline.

One might be tempted to think that these students were updating an old excuse, telling me that their "digital dog" ate their homework. In fact, however, I did believe the students. I am pretty sure that their computers did fail, right at the worst moment. The plight of these students, who had to do everything over again, reminded me of a story I heard some time ago.

It is a kind of "shaggy dog story," minus the shaggy dog. Here it is:

A Duel In Heaven 
One day in Heaven, as God was supervising the operations of the Heavenly Host, with Jesus serving as his Chief Clerk, the "Hotline From Hell" telephone rang. It was the Devil. 
"Hi," said God, "what can I do for you?"
Satan said, "God, I am sorry for having blown it so badly. It's really hot down here (and global warming isn't making things any better). I'd like to earn the right to come back to Heaven."
"Well," God replied, "I am a pretty forgiving guy, as you know, but you really did blow it big time with me. I don't see any way to make that happen for you."
"How about this," Satan rejoined: "I'll come up there and take over all the typing you need done, and all the associated clerical duties. I am a damn fast typist, and I know you will value my services. I am actully devilish fast," Satan said, just to show he had a sense of humor.
"Frankly," God responded, "my son Jesus is in charge of all the typing and other related issues, and I am more than satisfied with how he's doing. He types like he is inspired by the angels." God added that comment about the angels just to show that God hadn't lost his sense of humor, either.
"Just give me a chance, please," the Devil begged, and so God agreed, proving that God really is the forgiving type. 
"Here's what I will do," God stated: "I will give you a one-day pass. You can come on up to Heaven, and I will set up a contest between you and Jesus, to see who is the fastest and most accurate typist. You will each be given the entire New Testament to transcribe; you will both have the most recent and most powerful Apple Computers; and whoever finishes the transcription first, without making a single mistake, will be put in charge of  the typing and clerical duties here in Heaven. If you win, I'll reassign Jesus to other duties, and you can stay up here permanently. If you lose the contest, though, you're going back to Hell."
"This is more than generous," the Devil said. "Thank you. I'll be up there first thing tomorrow morning. I know you are going to be impressed with how fast I can type."
The next day, God had the equipment all set up: two identical computers; two identical desks; two absolutely identical copies of the entire New Testament on those desks. "When I give the signal," said God, "you can both start typing. You know the rules. Whoever finishes first will get the job of doing all the typing here in Heaven."
God blew a whistle, and both Jesus and the Devil started typing. Man, they were both fast, but it did look to observers (and there were lots of angels hanging around watching) that the Devil might actually be beating Jesus out.
Just as it was clear that both Jesus and the Devil were coming into the home stretch, the lights flickered; they flickered again; then, just like PG&E customers experience all the time, the power failed completely and the entirety of Heaven was plunged into total darkness.
You might think that God would say something like, "Hell," or "damn!" He didn't, and Jesus didn't either. But the Devil said all that and a lot more.
Anyway, just like with PG&E, the power came right back; the lights turned on again, and both computers rebooted. The Devil started typing like crazy. So did Jesus, and five minutes later, Jesus announced, "l'm done!" He printed out his work product and handed it in to God, who proclaimed it perfect.
The Devil was outraged. "What the Hell is going on? The power went out and I lost all my work. Naturally, I had to start over from the beginning. That wasn't my fault. Something's not right, here!"
"Oh, dear," God said. "I'm sorry. I thought you knew.

As you will have seen, no shaggy dog is found within this story, and even those who are non-religious should be able to get beyond the references to God and Jesus, and extract the important lesson found in this long tale about the Duel in Heaven.

This is a story, in other words, for all of us to keep in mind as we use our computers. It might be particularly relevant for students working on major papers.

Save your work! Back it up!

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