Sunday, May 26, 2019

#146 / What We Need More Than Hope

The latest edition of Integrities includes the transcript of a talk that Greta Thunberg gave in November of last year. Thunberg, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, is just sixteen years old. She is best known for having started "School Strike For Climate." Above everything else, Thunberg brings urgency to the discussion of global warming and what it portends.

You can read a written transcript of Thunberg's talk by clicking this link. As an alternative, you can click this link, to see a video of the actual presentation.

Here is what I would call the "pull quote," a short summary of the essential point made in Thunberg's talk:

Yes, we do need hope, of course we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So, instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then, and only then, hope will come.

Out of action comes hope. That's how it works. Not the other way around!

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Saturday, May 25, 2019

#145 / The Experts Say 60%

According to Joe Garofoli, who hosts a podcast and writes the "It's All Political" column in The San Francisco Chronicle, one "expert" political observer says that "President Trump could easily win re-election." The "expert" cited by Garofoli is Matt Morrison. Because The Chronicle has a formidible paywall, it's not certain that a reader of this blog posting will be able to see Garofoli's May 24th column by clicking this link, but that link is where Garofoli's column can be found. Here is a brief excerpt:

Matt Morrison has spent a lot of time over the past two years talking to working-class voters in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and he’s got a message for those who don’t get out of the West Coast blue bubble much: President Trump could easily win re-election. 
"If nothing were to change from today, I would give him a better-than-likely probability of being re-elected and winning pretty clear majorities in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin,” said Morrison. He leads the labor-funded Working America, a group that advocates for and has done deep research on working-class voters, including interviewing 5,000 people in focus groups in those states and elsewhere. 
Morrison believes that despite Trump’s tough-talking rhetoric, he hasn’t been good for working-class voters. While the stock market gains have benefited wealthier Americans, wage growth for most workers hasn’t kept pace with the rise in the economy. Yet Trump remains popular among white voters in Rust Belt states.

Garofoli also quotes Massachusetts Democratic Representative Seth Moulton to the same effect. Moulton puts Trump's current chances at 60%.

Why do I mention these "experts?" I mention them because I believe that amost everyone who is hoping that President Trump will not be reelected next year has vastly underrated him, and it's irritating. I truly believe that it is critically important to beat Donald Trump when he runs for reelection in 2020. But to do that, I believe a candidate (and that candidate's party) has to express some admiration for our current president. Just as a "concession" in an argumentative essay almost always strengthens the argument of the person who makes the concession, so conceding that Trump is doing some things that the people want is an important part of running a campaign against him.

The "political class" is out of favor with the American people (and for good reason). To capture the presidency, a successful candidate will have to be "against" the political class (not of it). That's my view. Trump's strength is that he is on the side of those who "deplore" the political class. That's his main appeal to the voters.

Running against the personal and political failings of our current president will not be enough.

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Friday, May 24, 2019

#144 / Diplomatic Decadence

In the article from which I obtained the picture at the top of this blog posting, Politico Magazine called Richard Holbrooke "America's most talented diplomat." Holbrooke died in 2010, at age sixty-nine, and the Politico article indicates how much Politico believes that we are "missing" his advice and diplomatic efforts. 

A recent book by George Packer, Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century," is apparently also rather laudatory. Packer was a personal friend of Holbrooke, so you might expect his treatment of Holbrooke to be positive. Based on the book review by Jennifer Szalai, though, which ran in the May 9, 2019, edition of The New Yorks Times, there was a lot not to like about Holbrooke. Here is what I thought was the most telling part of Szalai's review:

Intentions seem to matter a lot to Packer — which might explain why, despite his moments of discomfort when writing about the more unseemly displays of Holbrooke’s grasping ambition, he wills himself into giving Holbrooke the benefit of the doubt. 
There’s plenty of grasping to contend with, especially after Holbrooke started making money in the private sector between Democratic administrations, working as a consultant to companies like Nike and landing cushy gigs as an (ineffectual) investment banker. Holbrooke and his third wife, Marton, strategized the seating charts for their glitzy dinner parties as if they were drawing up battlefield plans; they obtained a sweetheart loan from Countrywide Financial — which later collapsed in the subprime mortgage crisis — to pay for several of their nine properties (including not one but two houses in Telluride); they both carried on affairs “in a class where affairs were practically expected,” with Holbrooke moving in to kiss a younger woman he worked with without waiting for her explicit consent. “He claimed her in the way of an entitled great man,” Packer writes. 
Elite decadence doesn’t seem to be the story Packer set out to tell, but he’s too gifted a writer to fail to notice it (“A whole class of people in Washington and New York sent other people’s children to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq while they found ways to get rich”).

If you want another review of Packer's book, you might also look up what Walter Isaacson has to say about it in the Sunday, May 12th edition of The New York Times. 

Full disclosure: I haven't read the book. Just the reviews. It looks to me, though, like Holbrooke was one of those "Davos Party" people mentioned in an earlier blog post. Sending "other people's children to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq while they ... get rich" does seem to warrant calling out this approach to diplomacy as "elite decadence." That's Szalai's bottom line.

I, for one, won't miss that brand of so-called "diplomacy" when it's finally gone!

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

#143 / Some Political Advice From A Rich Guy

James Altucher, pictured above, is a hedge fund manager, and he wants to make you a success. You could buy his book(s), for instance. Doing that might, or might not, increase your own annual income, but it would definitely increase Altucher's net worth. I have already used this blog, in an earlier posting, to give my views on the Altucher formula. I am not that enthusiastic!

In this posting, however, I want to link to one of Altucher's more recent statements, in which he outlines some of his political views. I am recommending his article, "To Stay Sane in an Age of Broken Politics, Admit What You Don't Know." Altucher's article was published in Quilette on May 9, 2019. 

Among other things, Altucher compares our current politics to a "reality show," though he never specifically notes that this is not, actually, a simile, or a metaphor, but is, in fact, an accurate description of what our politics has become. Most recently, of course, we did elect a reality show host to serve as our President. 

What I liked about the recent Altucher article (besides the fact that he isn't trying to sell us anything - other than the notion that he is a REALLY smart guy) is that he says that our politics depends on us. 

True, that!! It's not a reality show, after all!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

#142 / Foreign Law

Should the United States Supreme Court consult the law of other nations as it considers the cases that come before it? It seems that Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is of two minds: 

WASHINGTON — Two years ago, at his confirmation hearings, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said that what happens abroad should not influence American judges in constitutional cases. 'We have our own tradition and our own history,” he said, “and I do not know why we would look to the experience of other countries rather than to our own.” 
But last week, during arguments over whether the Trump administration may add a question on citizenship to the 2020 census, Justice Gorsuch did not hesitate to consider what he called “the evidence of practice around the world.” 
“Virtually every English-speaking country and a great many others besides ask this question in their censuses,” he said.

Many suspect that our Supreme Court is not just "calling balls and strikes," as Chief Justice John Roberts put it at his own confirmation hearings, some years ago. The suspicion is that the Court's decisions are crafted not to discover what the law "is," but to make the law reflect the political preferences of a majority of the Court. That is not, actually, the way it is supposed to be.

The article I have quoted above, from the April 29, 2019, edition of The New York Times, is well worth reading, as we think about how our Supreme Court Justices are conducting themselves. I have another observation, too. 

The United States does not think "citizenship" is of critical importance with respect to how people are treated by the government. The Declaration of Independence says that all people are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Not just citizens.

In the same way, The Bill of Rights does not defend and protect the rights of citizens alone. Check it out. The purpose of The Bill of Rights is to protect the rights of "the people," and all "persons." In our system of government, everyone gets justice, not just citizens!

In other words, considering the foundations upon which our governmetn is based, one might well question the relevance of a "citizenship" question in our official census questionnaire. Are you a citizen? The way the Constitution sees it, that's really not very important!

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

#141 / Evolutionary Dogwalking

Aeon has recently published an article called "Evolution unleashed," by Kevin Laland. Laland is a professor of behavioral and evolutionary biology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and his latest book is titled, Darwin's Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind

The message of Laland's book, and the Aeon article, is the following: 

The truly unique characteristics of our species—such as our intelligence, language, teaching, and cooperation—are not adaptive responses to predators, disease, or other external conditions. Rather, humans are creatures of their own making.

Laland's theory is that our evolutionary development reflects what he calls "EES," Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. His contention is that "what happens to organisms during their lifetime ... can play important and previously unanticipated roles in evolution. The orthodox view has been that developmental processes are largely irrelevant to evolution, but the EES views them as pivotal."

Let's consider that "dog walking" image a little more closely, including, this time, the legend that Laland has placed underneath the picture: 

What Laland is saying is that evolution is like someone "walking a bunch of dogs." Genes change the future organism slowly. Parental effects and cultural inheritance change the future organism more rapidly. In fact, experiences within one individual's lifetime, says Laland, are capable of changing the characteristics of the very next generation.  

If correct, EES is a good argument for a large investment in early childhood education. It also suggests that we could "change the world" (and our human nature) in a timeframe that might allow the human race to succeed in taking the actions needed to prevent human-caused global warming from destroying everything that lives on Earth. 

That's pretty optimistic, I know, but maybe using EES as a definition of what is possible is a better approach than moving the entirety of our human civilization into "hospice care." 

There is actually a word for the kind of transformation that would be needed. Click the link if you don't already know the definition: 

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Monday, May 20, 2019

#140 / The AFC

The Association of Faith Communities (AFC) is a rather extraordinary group. It is an incorporated association of local faith communities in Northern Santa Cruz County, and its membership includes:

  • Calvary Episcopal Church
  • The Peace United Church of Christ
  • The Religious Society of Friends (The Quakers)
  • The Resurrection Catholic Community
  • The Shrine of St. Joseph
  • Star of the Sea Catholic Church
  • St. John’s Episcopal Church
  • St. Phillips Episcopal Church
  • The Salvation Army
  • Trinity Presbyterian Church, and
  • United Methodist Church

The AFC is really on the front lines, in Northern Santa Cruz County, as our local community confronts the challenge of homelessness.

On Saturday evening, May 18, 2019, the AFC held what its website advertised as its "third First Annual Gala" at the Holy Cross Parish Hall, in Santa Cruz. I am not sure, actually, what that title was meant to convey. I am sure, however, because I was there, that the gala was a powerful gathering of the many persons in this community who are working tirelessly on the problems of homelessness. A poster on the wall listed the names of over 400 persons who had personally helped run the AFC's shelter and feeding programs during the preceding year. The crowd on hand, probably 200 strong, honored others, too. I talked at the gathering on the following topic: "The Challenge That Homelessness Puts To Politics."

Politics has a kind of bad reputation, generally, and one of my messages was that we shouldn't give up on it, and that we should never discount our ability, together, to change how our community addresses the most serious problems we face.

Nothing is "inevitable" in the world we create, and our local community has discovered, before, that when we truly decide to change the world, we can do that!

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Sunday, May 19, 2019

#139 / GoT You!

I generally put my daily blog postings online during the morning. This blog posting, thus, antedates the final episode of Game of Thrones, scheduled to appear tonight on HBO. I make no predictions. I have no idea how it will all end. 

I do have a comment, though, about what many thought was the "unexpected" behavior of Daenerys Targaryen, as portrayed in the last and next-to-final episode. GoT followers will not need to be reminded that this "good Queen" used her last dragon to destroy the entirety of Kings Landing, frying both friend, foe, and the innocent alike. 

Some were surprised. They thought this kind of behavior incongruous, considering the rather "positive" role that Daenerys has seemed largely to play throughout the long and engrossing series. I think Leslie Lee, writing in the Truthdig newsletter, was right on target. He calls GoT "An American Parable." 

Here is a quick summary of Lee's perspective (emphasis added):

Daenerys was never really anyone’s hero. During the penultimate episode of the show’s final season, fans were shocked when Daenerys commanded her dragon to slaughter the people of King’s Landing, home of her rival, Queen Cersei Lannister, torching men, women and children as they ran for cover—this after the Lannister army and its allies had declared their surrender. It was an act of brutality that turned the fantasy universe of “Game of Thrones” into one of pure horror. 
Dany devotees were apoplectic. They argued that such actions were completely aberrant, that their proud and noble queen would never harm innocent civilians. More than 400,000 have signed a petition demanding that HBO remake the final season with “competent writers.” As blogger Candace Aiston wrote, “I’m so [expletive] mad right now. Game of Thrones has been a waste of my life.” 
But was this really a break in character? Or did Daenerys fans ... just have her wrong from the start? 
From the lore surrounding Dany’s father, the “Mad King,” to the boorish Robert Baratheon to the incestuous Cersei to the ruthless Stannis and lecherous Walder Frey, nearly every feudal ruler in “Game of Thrones” is portrayed as despicable in one way or another. The various plots they participate in to gain or keep power usually result in the deaths of their friends, their families and themselves, along with untold scores of serfs who fight and die in their wars. 
Daenerys was never an exception to the rule. Television viewers may have embraced her as a feminist hero, comparing her to such real-life politicians as [Elizabeth] Warren and Hillary Clinton, but throughout the series she was as vengeful, vindictive and cruel as any lord. Here are just a few of the victims of Daenerys’ royal wrath: 
  • A woman sexually assaulted by the Dothraki army, whom Daenerys burns alive for a witch  
  • The entire leadership of said Dothraki, a band of ethnic nomads that the white Daenerys massacres before commanding its military  
  • Randall and Dickon Tarly, whom she sacrificed to one of her dragons for failing to recognize her as their queen  
  • Varys, who rightfully feared she might level King’s Landing in an impending siege 
These are far from the only people Daenerys gleefully tortured to death throughout the show, so her actions in the most recent episode should have come as no surprise.

Lee makes the point in his article that I made to my wife, as she complained that the last episode was not consistent with the trajectory of the series, and thus was unsatisfying as a way to bring the series to a conclusion. She saw this as a kind of literary failure. 

Here is the point I made, and that Lee makes: Kings and Queens and comparable rulers are always tyrannical, and they act always in their own interest, and at their own whim. No one should ever expect such a ruler to act on behalf of the people over whom they rule. Anytime it seems like an autocratic leader is working for "the people," you had better believe that things are not as they appear. 

Lee says that democratically-elected leaders are the only ones upon whom we can ever hope to rely. In this series, Jon Snow is the closest thing going. 

Let's see if autocracy or democracy wins on Game of Thrones. Tune in tonight!

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Saturday, May 18, 2019

#138 / Sex, Drugs, And Rock And Roll

I hate to confess (as the sixties came and went), that I pretty much missed out on "sex, drugs, and rock and roll." Because I did, I was particularly pleased to attend that benefit held last night, featuring women who could speak from personal experience to all of the above.

PLUS (and it was a big plus), there was a mini-concert by the Ace of Cups, who were introduced by Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold. The Ace of Cups is an "all-lady band" from the sixties (that's their description), and the band showed up in Santa Cruz with a sample of their new double-CD. You can get the flavor and a little bit of their story right here:

You can also order the band's double-CD (and sample some songs and videos) by clicking this link.

There is very nice little book that comes with the double-CD, and the back cover promises: "TO BE CONTINUED." I hope so. The band sang a song last night I would like to hear again, and it is not on the CD:

The balance hangs. It could go either way.

I would like to study those lyrics, because that is what I think, too. It isn't only The Ace of Cups that has some unfinished business to deal with, holding over from the sixties: Peace, love, and brotherhood, and an end to imperialist wars...

It could go either way.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

#137 / Taxing The Rich ...

... Is Harder Than It Sounds

Writing in The New York Times, Jesse Eisinger and Paul Kiel, who are both reporters at ProPublica, say that it may not be that easy to "tax the rich." Their article is titled, in the hard copy version of the paper, "Taxing the Rich Is Harder Than It Sounds."

Oh, heck!

The Times' article is worth reading. It points out that those who work in the world of finance (in other words, those who are and/or who represent the truly rich) have better lawyers and advisors than the United States Government, specifically including those lawyers, accountants, and others who work for the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, the IRS has been "eviscerated," according to Eisinger and Kiel. Trying to raise taxes on the super-wealthy is like asking the IRS to "take on a modern army with spears and clubs."

What this says to me is that we will actually have to elect representatives who will pay attention to the details of how to govern, as opposed to those mainly interested in getting elected. Presuming that we could actually elect a majority of the Congress that represented ordinary people, as opposed to the super-rich, those whom we elect will have to focus on the details. It may be difficult to "tax the rich," but it is certainly not impossible. 

It won't happen, though, unless candidates will explicitly say that this is one of their objectives, if elected. Candidates would have to convince the voters who send them to Congress that "taxing the rich" is not only fair, it's the only way that this nation will ever be able to address its challenges, and to achieve its aspirations. 

I must admit, this sounds a little bit like "populism" to me!

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

#136 / What Leonardo Said

An article in The Conversation, commenting on the Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, cited this passage:

By the ancients man has been called the world in miniature; and certainly this name is well bestowed, because, inasmuch as man is composed of earth, water, air, and fire, his body resembles that of the earth; and as man has in him bones — the supports and framework of his flesh —, the world has its rocks — the supports of the earth; as man has in him a pool of blood in which the lungs rise and fall in breathing, so the body of the earth has its ocean tide which likewise rises and falls …

Arielle Saiber, Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, Bowdoin College, and the author of the article, characterized this observation as follows: "Unlike many thinkers of his time who anthropomorphized the Earth, Leonardo terramorphized man (emphasis added)."

Because humans have the power to create a world, based on their visions and actions, our tendency is to think that "man," indeed, is "the measure of all things." That phrase comes from Protagoras. If we don't pay attention, we start believing that the World of Nature is not the ultimate reality, but that the ultimate reality is a human-created world that is, actually, dependent on the World of Nature.

We anthropomorphize the Earth, instead of terramorphizing the human.

It looks to me like Leonardo got it right!

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

#135 / Academia Takes It On!

I am currently teaching a course at the University of California, Santa Cruz: LGST 196, which is the Legal Studies Program's "Capstone Thesis" course. One of the applicable "Program Learning Objectives" applicable to this course, which instructors are mandated to document, is a requirement that students "develop and communicate well-organized, persuasive, and well-supported written and oral arguments and analyses regarding law and legal issues based on appropriate empirical and/or theoretical evidence and logic (emphasis added)."

Among other things, this means that students must utilize "academic level" research sources as they write their papers. No bullshit is permitted! That's the idea, anyway. 

I was fascinated to learn, recently, that academic-level researchers have now turned their attention to the topic of "bullshit" itself, documenting what it is, and who does it. That's right; academia has taken on "bullshit" as an official topic of research and explication. You can read about it right here, in "Bullshitters. Who Are They and What Do We Know about Their Lives?"

If you believe a recent summary of the article, found on Twitter, Canadians are the biggest bullshitters.

Students in the United States are Number Two. But not, let me say, in LGST 196!!

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

#134 / What Are You Willing To Give?

I was impressed by a powerful editorial statement printed in the May 4, 2019, edition of The New York Times. Ady Barkan, pictured above in 2018, is a lawyer and a progressive political activist. In 2014, he was working to influence the Federal Reserve's decisions on monetary policy. Against the odds, he actually seemed to be having some impact. Read the column for the story. Written by Binyamin Applebaum, the column is titled, "Dying Is No Reason to Stop Fighting."

In 2016, just as Barkan's campaign on monetary policy began having some success, Barkan found that he had ALS, a disease that leads, inevitably, to death. Barkan was staggered by this news, completely unexpected, but he decided that he would keep on fighting for the causes he championed. During the 2018 midterm elections, Barkan went on a nationwide tour, speaking before thousands of people, even as he was losing the ability to speak. 

"I'm willing to give my last breath to save our democracy," he told the crowds. "What are you willing to give?"

That's a question addressed to each one of us!

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Monday, May 13, 2019

#133 / The End Of The Warriors...

On Sunday, May 12, 2019, The New York Times spilled a lot of ink writing about the Golden State Warriors. The longest article (though not the only one) was titled, "For the Warriors, a Move Means the End of Something." The topic discussed was the decision by the owners of the team to abandon the Oracle Arena, in Oakland (pictured above), in order to relocate the team to the "Chase Center," which is located in San Francisco, and which is still under construction. Online, The Times' headline was transmogrified into the following: "The End of the Warriors as We Know Them."

I came rather late to the party as one of the Warriors' "Authentic Fans," but for the last several years I have followed the team with what might be called a kind of obsessive devotion. I watch every game! What caught my attention about the Warriors, as I casually watched a minute or two of one of the Warriors' games, several years ago, was the incredible "team" approach that the Warriors employed to win. They produced a slogan, "Strength in Numbers," which epitomized their novel approach. Everyone got to play and perform, and exceptional moments were to be expected, whether long three-point shots by Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, or amazing passes to someone suddenly all alone under the basket. Up until I happened to see the Warriors' play, completely by accident, I had probably only watched one or two baseball or football games in the last fifty years, and NO basketball games.

Unfortunately, I agree with The Times that this exceptional era, that captured even a sports-resistant person like me, is very likely coming to an end. I cite to the same cause identified by the newspaper - the decision to abandon Oakland:

The Warriors did not need to leave the grit of Oakland for the gloss of San Francisco. They chose to do so. Like most franchise leaps to new homes, it is a move borne of vanity, dressed as necessity. 

An absence of "vanity" is exactly what I have loved about the Warriors, and even those who are not Biblical scholars have heard the words of Ecclesiastes 1:

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

Authentic Fans want an "authentic" team! I fear for the future of the Warriors, now that the owners of the team have cast aside the team's deeply rooted past, so that the owners can pursue (let's be honest)  ever bigger bucks and more personal profits. I fear The Times is right. This move is "the end of the Warriors as we know them." How much I am going to want to continue to be acquainted remains to be seen.

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Sunday, May 12, 2019

#132 / The Begats

Alma Bracken Patton, my Mother

Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, and called his name Seth. And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos. Enos lived ninety years, and begat Cainan. Cainan lived seventy years, and begat Mahalaleel, and Mahalaleel lived sixty and five years, and begat Jared. Jared lived an hundred sixty and two years, and he begat Enoch. Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah. Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech, and Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son, and he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD hath cursed. And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and seven years: and he died, and Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth... 
            Genesis 5 [abbreviated]
The "Begats" go on and on. The Old Testament puts a pretty big emphasis on who begat whom, and you might notice that only the fathers get mentioned. Today is Mother's Day, and so I thought I should make clear that while I have nothing but appreciation for my own father, and for the role he played in my life (he is pictured below), I want to give my mother more than equal credit for helping me to become who I am.

A recent story published in The Sun, "The Apostate of Orange Street," got me thinking about the fact that while it is the men who most typically command and direct their children, and maybe particularly their sons, it is the women who most typically protect, nurture, and defend those same children. In the end, it all depends on the women. In the story I have mentioned, the father (stepfather, actually) is a commanding presence, but the young boy who is the main character, and who is, in fact, the "Apostate of Orange Street," is ultimately saved by his mother. It's quite a nice story.

I would also like to note, since I'm featuring the "Begats," that the New Testament gives a lot more credit to women, and to the role they play, than the Old Testament does. We do get introduced to Joseph and Mary, early on, as the parents of Jesus, but Joseph kind of drops out of the story for the most part, and Mary plays a central role, right to the end. People who go on their knees to worship The Virgin of Guadalupe would probably not take the same trouble to pay their respects, and to ask for assistance, from a shrine established to Joseph the Carpenter.

Popes and the patriarchy seem to have missed this message. I am thinking about it, and about my wonderful mother, on Mother's Day this year. Candidly, I would hope my own children have a similar feeling as they contemplate their two parents. I know which parent has most importantly supported and sustained my daughter and my son.

The Old Testament didn't miss the boat entirely. When Moses came down the mountain with the tablets, God had ten important things to say. Better pay attention to God is the first thing we are told, but the Fourth Commandment says we are to honor both our father and our mother. As a father, I think that's appropriate! It is both parents.

I want to give honor to both of my parents, but on Mother's Day this year, I am particularly expressing my great love for my mother, Alma Bracken Patton. Love you, Mom. And I miss you, too!

My father, Philips B. Patton (Not a footnote in my life!)

Image Credits:
Personal photos, Gary A. Patton

Saturday, May 11, 2019

#131 / A Pat On The Back

Pat McCormick (pictured), has recently retired as the Executive Officer of the Santa Cruz County Local Agency Formation Commission, commonly called LAFCO. An exceptionally nice celebration of Pat's thirty-eight years of service was held during the regular LAFCO meeting on May 1, 2019

You can check the Santa Cruz County LAFCO website next month, to see what the Minutes say about that May 1st meeting. Those Minutes may be a bit longer than usual! The Board of Supervisors Chambers in the Santa Cruz County Governmental Center were packed, with people having come from all over California to voice their appreciation for the contributions that Pat McCormick has made to good land use planning and good government. Pat has had an impact not only locally but literally throughout the entire state - and he got nothing but well-deserved rave reviews from everyone who showed up to salute his contributions. 

Most of the folks in the room, of course, were from Santa Cruz County, and they hailed from deep in the Fifth Supervisorial District to the precincts of the Pajaro Valley, down south in the Fourth Supervisorial District. Former Second District Supervisor Robley Levy was there, and made exceptionally heartfelt remarks about how Pat and LAFCO had helped save South County agriculture. Current Second District County Supervisor Zach Friend commended Pat for his professionalism. First District Supervisor John Leopold joined in the chorus of those celebrating Pat's contributions, and though I no longer have a formal role representing the Third Supervisorial District, I also testified to the incredibly important work that Pat has done to preserve and protect all that is best in Santa Cruz County. All districts covered, in other words!

LAFCO is a little-known and little-understood agency established by state law, one major purpose of which is to "stop sprawl." As expressed more formally in the Cortese–Knox–Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000, which is the most recent edition of this incredibly important state law, which was initially enacted in the 1960's, the purpose of LAFCO is to "encourage orderly growth and development which are essential to the social, fiscal, and economic well-being of the state."

I have seen the power of LAFCO up close and personal, having served on our local LAFCO for many years, representing the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, and having served, also, as a Member of the CALAFCO Board of Directors. Without a doubt, LAFCO has prevented the kind of urban sprawl in Santa Cruz County that turned Santa Clara County from orchards and farms, the "Valley of Heart's Delight," into the Silicon Valley we know today. Santa Cruz County made a different choice, which I think was the right one, and it wouldn't have been possible without LAFCO and Pat McCormick.

The tributes to Pat documented his encyclopedic knowledge of LAFCO law, and of all other laws relating to California local government. He was thanked for his personal generosity, and celebrated for his ability effortlessly to marshal knowledge of arcane provisions of state law. In this, Pat typically relied not only on his personal memory, always at the ready, but also on the multiple pieces of paper, or digital files, that Pat was always able to produce at almost a moment's notice. Pat's ability to work with everyone, right in the midst of extremely flammable political controversies, was emphasized by almost everyone who testified. 

As earlier indicated, I joined in the long line of those who thanked Pat McCormick for his work, and I thought I should document, here, my deep appreciation for Pat's service to both Santa Cruz County and to the State of California. As I was leaving the podium, Pat jokingly asked me why I hadn't made any reference to the most recently-named Nobel Laureate in Literature (a certain Mr. Bob Dylan, for those not quite up to speed on the actions of the Swedish Academy). Pat was obviously aware of my appreciation of Bob Dylan's insightful lyrics and moving music, and the thought came to me that I really should end this blog-based tribute with some sort of Dylan reference.

Since one of the persons appearing at the May 1st meeting quoted some song lyrics that Pat had written himself, it strikes me that a few lyrical licks, right here, using some Dylan-inspired music for the tune, is probably in order. Thus, I invite you to sing along with this single-verse song, to get some idea of Pat McCormick's contributions to Santa Cruz County. (The lyrics are intended to be sung to the tune of "Up To Me"): 

Everything was going from bad to worse 
Developers were making the call. 
The future of the county was up for grabs 
And it was looking like a lot of sprawl. 
Somebody said, they said it with a laugh, 
There had to be a different way. 
This LAFCO guy, his name was Pat, 
He was going to save the day....  
(Continue... for thirty-eight years)

Many thanks to Pat McCormick. And there is another Dylan song that also comes to mind:

I'll Remember You!

Image Credit:
Debra Means, Santa Cruz County Local Agency Formation Commission

Friday, May 10, 2019

#130 / The Davos Party

Davos, Switzerland, meeting place of the World Economic Forum
Roger Cohen, writing in The New York Times, suggests that Joe Biden is a candidate committed to the "Party of Davos," which Cohen defines as "the network of elites whose economic and cultural prescriptions came to be seen by myriad voters across the United States and Europe as camouflage for a self-serving heist."

Our current president offered himself as a candidate in opposition to these elites (perfectly represented, on the Democratic Party side, by Hillary Clinton). Trump tricked the voters! But.... (and this is Cohen's point), the voters really did want to transfer leadership to someone who isn't beholden to the internationalist, elitist coterie that has taken control of our country's assets to wage interminable wars and to advance the interests of wealthy people everywhere. Trump was a "populist," right? Well, maybe the voters were not very clear what that meant in 2016.

In 2020, the voters will surely know a lot more about Donald Trump, and about how much of a "populist" he really is. While that should help make it possible to beat Trump, Cohen suggests that the voters still aren't enthusiastic about picking one of those elitists to run the country. They still want a "populist" candidate. 

Cohen's column is worth reading. His point is worth thinking about. Is former Vice President Joe Biden really just a "slap 'em on the back" regular guy? Or, is he actually a member of the Davos Party? Let's hope it is not the latter, and....

While we think about that, and what it means for the upcoming election, we should remember that there is at least one genuine populist in the race, and here's a hint:

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

#129 / Everyday Rebels

Rod Dreher, pictured above (in the center), writes a blog for The American Conservative. Dreher is not only politically conservative; he is strongly religious, favoring a retreat into small monastic communities, which he calls "The Benedict Option." His book by that name, just linked, is subtitled, "A strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation." 

I started following Dreher's blog after reading a New Yorker article about him that was titled, "Rod Dreher's Monastic Vision." In a blog posting made on May 3, 2019, Dreher announced a new book, which he is still writing, to be called (maybe), "Rules For Everyday Rebels: Twenty Lessons In Resisting The Cultural Revolution." He is not talking about China. 

Dreher says that "the gist of his new book will be twofold: first, to explore evidence that emigres to the West from the Soviet bloc say tells them that Western democracies are sliding into soft totalitarianism; and second, to investigate practical strategies for resisting this soft totalitarianism from the lives and stories of Soviet bloc men and women who endured hard totalitarianism without losing their minds, their integrity, or their hope ... The most important thing I’ve learned from talking to the underground church community in Slovakia is the absolutely critical importance of small, strong communities."

I am not a fan of Dreher's politics, but I have found many of his observations to be quite worthwhile. The suggestion that the United States is falling into a "soft totalitarianism" hits pretty close to the mark, it seems to me. The need to maintain "small, strong communities" as the best antidote to such totalitarian tendencies also seems correct, the way I see it. 

Luckily (though we do tend to forget it), our nation is not a "unitary" nation with all governmental power centralized in our national government. We are the "United" States, and the states come first, before the nation. It is this federal system that Hannah Arendt identified as one of our greatest bulwarks against totalitarianism, and she is certainly right about that, whether such threatened totalitarianism is either "hard" or "soft." 

If we have cause to be worried about totalitarianism (and I think we do), I suggest that Dreher's commentary contains a good idea. Instead of simply agonizing over how bad things are becoming at the national level, let's focus on exercising our considerable political power through our personal engagement and involvement in local government activity. 

A retreat to a monastery is not required!

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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

#128 / Improving The Kill Chain

According to Foreign Affairs, modern warfare is more and more taking on the aspects of sci-fi. What follows is an excerpt from an article published in the May/June 2019 issue, "The New Revolution in Military Affairs."

In 1898, a Polish banker and self-taught military expert named Jan Bloch published The Future of War, the culmination of his long obsession with the impact of modern technology on warfare... 
What Bloch anticipated has come to be known as a “revolution in military affairs”—the emergence of technologies so disruptive that they overtake existing military concepts and capabilities and necessitate a rethinking of how, with what, and by whom war is waged. Such a revolution is unfolding today. Artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, ubiquitous sensors, advanced manufacturing, and quantum science will transform warfare as radically as the technologies that consumed Bloch. And yet the U.S. government’s thinking about how to employ these new technologies is not keeping pace with their development. 
This is especially troubling because Washington has been voicing the same need for change, and failing to deliver it, ever since officials at the U.S. Department of Defense first warned of a coming “military-technical revolution,” in 1992. That purported revolution had its origins in what Soviet military planners termed “the reconnaissance-strike complex” in the 1980s, and since then, it has been called “network-centric warfare” during the 1990s, “transformation” by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in these pages in 2002, and “the third offset strategy” by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work in 2014. But the basic idea has remained the same: emerging technologies will enable new battle networks of sensors and shooters to rapidly accelerate the process of detecting, targeting, and striking threats, what the military calls the “kill chain.” 
The idea of a future military revolution became discredited amid nearly two decades of war after 2001 and has been further damaged by reductions in defense spending since 2011. But along the way, the United States has also squandered hundreds of billions of dollars trying to modernize in the wrong ways. Instead of thinking systematically about buying faster, more effective kill chains that could be built now, Washington poured money into newer versions of old military platforms and prayed for technological miracles to come (which often became acquisition debacles when those miracles did not materialize). The result is that U.S. battle networks are not nearly as fast or effective as they have appeared while the United States has been fighting lesser opponents for almost three decades (emphasis added).

That "kill chain" terminology was new to me. However, it all makes sense. If the idea is to kill people, finding the best and cheapest way to do that seems like the only "rational" thing to do. However, maybe the indubitable logic of this proposition could prompt some further reflection on the "kill chain" concept. 

In the very first paragraph of the article I have excerpted above, you will see an elipsis. Here is what I left out: 

Bloch foresaw with stunning prescience how smokeless gunpowder, improved rifles, and other emerging technologies would overturn contemporary thinking about the character and conduct of war. (Bloch also got one major thing wrong: he thought the sheer carnage of modern combat would be so horrific that war would “become impossible.”)

We know that "anything is possible" in the world that we create through our own actions and choices. We can make both our dreams and our nightmares come true. The question that always faces us, including the question of what to do about potential military applications of our latest scientific advances, is not "what will happen now?" but "what should we do?"

Bloch had the right idea. When war becomes so horrific that it is unbearable to contemplate the possibilities, we need to make it "impossible." Otherwise, we are looking at a super-efficient "kill chain" that will bind us all into a race towards total destruction: 

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

#127 / Trust And The Airplane

If you need somebody you can trust, trust yourself
      - Bob Dylan, Trust Yourself 
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal discussed problems with the software that the Boeing Aircraft Company created for its newest plane, the Boeing 737-MAX. An article from The Verge tells the horrible story of how the crew of one of the planes just barely avoided a catastrophe, as the flight crew had to battle the plane's software for control. That same plane, despite a report on the problems, was put into service the very next day, and crashed, on a flight designated as Lion Air flight 610. 189 people died in the Lion Air crash. Another crash, later, involving the same software problem, claimed 157 lives.

What has become apparent from the investigations into the two crashes is that Boeing (with the approval of the FAA) set up a system that basically allowed software to fly the plane with no human intervention - with the pilots just standing by. In fact, in its testing program, Boeing did not even tell the pilots who were evaluating the new plane how the software worked. The way Boeing proceeded finds parallels in the way that those "autonomous cars" are being designed. In the case of the 737-MAX, though, the "car" in question is carrying something like two hundred people and is flying about five miles high. What's worse, it appears that the software deployed on the 737-MAX was not designed to let the pilot take control of the plane without having to "fight" the software for the right to decide how to fly it.

It is pretty clear to me, having read a few stories about these horrific crashes, that there needs to be a "switch" in the cockpit that turns off the computer and that gives full control over the plane to the pilot. Let's assume that the human pilots know how to fly the planes. They better! If software-dependent computers are allowed to pilot aircraft, that may be fine - until something goes wrong. At that point, it's time for a return to the reality of the analog world, and that's when the pilots have to take full responsibility, without the software and the computer battling the pilots for control. 

Maybe, as part of their training, we can provide pilots with a YouTube link to Bob Dylan's song, or at least to the lyrics. In the end, in this as in other cases, we need to trust human beings, not computer software, to make all of life's big decisions. 

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Monday, May 6, 2019

#126 / In The Ecotone

James Clifford, Emeritus Professor in the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has written a beautiful book, In The Ecotone, available from the Bay Tree Bookstore at UCSC, and from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and probably from elsewhere, too. 

Clifford's book is an impassioned song of love to the UCSC campus, and particularly to its both stunning and subtle physical beauty. The book celebrates everything that makes the campus such a special place. Clifford's book has been published as the campus teeters on the brink of a repudiation of one of the central commitments made by the University in the very early 1960s, when the Cowell Ranch was initially selected and then developed as the site of the University's then-new campus. 

As Clifford explains in the book, "the earliest plans for the university placed it in the meadow. Construction there would probably have been simpler and less expensive ... Initial sketches show a rather conventional campus ..." A picture of the meadow appears above. Reknowned landscape architect "Thomas Church argued against building in the meadow, a perspective quickly accepted by the planning team, and after some debate, by the Regents. The whole operation was moved uphill, into the ecotone and the forest."

As Robert Frost might have said, "and that has made all the difference."

A little over fifty years after the decision to reject filling the meadow with buildings, retiring Chancellor George Blumenthal has done everything he can to reverse the committment insisted upon by the founders. Instead of celebrating the splendor of the campus, which the preservation of the open meadow as its entryway accomplishes automatically, Blumenthal has decided that a rather conventional and undistinguished residential development should be the first view that most visitors will have of the campus as they come through the Main Gate:

Current view, from the project EIR
Chancellor Blumenthal's proposal, from the project EIR

Those who use the West Gate entry will see, perhaps even worse, high-rise apartment buildings that conjure up a vision of a dense, urban downtown: 

The "Blumenthal blunder," as it will surely always be remembered, if construction moves ahead, is being challenged in court. You can get more information by clicking this link for a news story about the lawsuits. 

If you would like to join in the fight to protect and preserve the meadow (and to maintain the vision that has defined the physical development of the UCSC campus from its very beginnings), you can click the link for a connection to the East Meadow Action Committee. More stunning pictures are available from the EMAC website. 

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