Monday, May 29, 2023

#149 / Democracy Defined


Columnist Joe Mathews has some comments on Gavin Newsom's "Campaign for Democracy." Mathews more or less copies what Gandhi said about "Western Civilization." Gandhi is reported to have said, when asked about "Western Civilization," that he thought it would be a good idea

Mathews, similarly, claims that "Gov. Gavin Newsom is doing a good thing by launching 'Campaign for Democracy.'" The only problem, Mathews says, is that "what he's campaigning for is not democracy." 

Mathews defines democracy as follows: 

"Democracy is everyday people governing themselves."
If you click this link (Mercury News), or this one (San Francisco Chronicle), it may be that one of those newspapers' protective paywalls will let you slip by to read the entirety of what Mathews has to say. Let me just provide you with the essence of Mathews' commentary: 

Newsom’s campaign has little to do with the vital business of getting together with your neighbors to practice self-government. The governor instead is leading a large national media campaign to confront the sins of politicians with whom he disagrees... If Newsom wanted an effort worthy of the name “Campaign for Democracy,” he’d pursue a new constitution that provides universal suffrage and restores the power of local communities to determine their own fates (emphasis added).
I'm with Gandhi (and Mathews), but let me say that "democracy" is not something that a Governor (or a government) can "give you." 
If you want "democracy," if you want ordinary people to "govern themselves," if you really believe in "self-government," then ordinary people will have to take the power of government away from those who currently claim it (including Governor Newsom).
If you want "self-government," you will just have to get involved yourself!

Sunday, May 28, 2023

#148 / Everyone Is A Created Being Of Their Own

Elliot Kukla is a rabbi who provides spiritual care to those who are grieving, dying, ill, or disabled. In a column in The New York Times, Rabbi Kukla noted that "over the past few years there have been countless stories in the news of trans and nonbinary young people's deaths by suicide." This doesn't have to happen, Kukla says - and Kukla tells us how to prevent it.

Citing to a 2021 study published by The Journal of Adolescent Health, Kukla notes that the odds of people younger than 18 attempting suicide is reduced by almost forty percent if they receive gender-affirming hormone therapy. In other words, when society recognizes and accepts transgender and non-binary persons for who they actually are, and supports them, the chances that persons who are so recognized might attempt suicide is radically diminished. 
Rabbi Kukla, who is transgender and non-binary, told me something I didn't know. I hope those who are reading this blog posting will consider what Kukla says. Online, Rabbi Kukla's column is titled, "Ancient Judaism Recognized a Range of Genders. It’s Time We Did, Too."
This year, more than 450 bills have been introduced in 44 states, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker, that make it harder for transgender and nonbinary youth to get the support, respect and health care they need to survive.

Within days of each other, Mississippi and Tennessee enacted bans on gender-affirming health care for young people. Arizona moved forward one bill that would ban from schools any books that promote “gender or pronouns” and another that would prohibit teachers from using pronouns for young people that differ from their biological sex, without a parent’s written consent. A bill in Florida could allow a parent to remove children from a supportive home with their custodial parent and take them across state lines to keep them from receiving gender-affirming health care — even if those children are simply “at risk” of getting that care.

This legislative attack is often framed as a battle between traditional religious values and modern ideas about gender. But we are real people, not ideas, and we have always existed, including within age-old religions. In my own tradition, Judaism, our most sacred texts reflect a multiplicity of gender. This part of Judaism has mostly been obscured by the modern binary world until very recently.

There are four genders beyond male or female that appear in ancient Jewish holy texts hundreds of times. They are considered during discussions about childbirth, marriage, inheritance, holidays, ritual leadership and much more. We were always hiding in plain sight, but recently the research of Jewish studies scholars like Max Strassfeld has demonstrated how nonbinary gender is central to understanding Jewish law and literature as a whole.
When a child was born in the ancient Jewish world it could be designated as a boy, a girl, a “tumtum” (who is neither clearly male nor female), or an “androgynos” (who has both male and female characteristics) based on physical features. There are two more gender designations that form later in life. The “aylonit” is considered female at birth, but develops in an atypical direction. The “saris” is designated male at birth, but later becomes a eunuch.

There is not an exact equivalence between these ancient categories and modern gender identities. Some of these designations are based on biology, some on a person’s role in society. But they show us that people who are more than binary have always been recognized by my religion. We are not a fad (emphasis added).
In the hard copy edition of the paper, Rabbi Kukla's column has a different title from the online title I have quoted above. In the copy I read, getting ink on my fingers, the title of Rabbi Kukla's column is the title I have placed on this blog posting - a statement that is profoundly true. 
May we, God willing, remember this: 

Everyone is a created being of their own.

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Saturday, May 27, 2023

#147 / Now, I'm Liberal......

Now, I'm liberal but to a degree
I want ev’rybody to be free
But if you think that I’ll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I’m crazy!
I wouldn’t let him do it for all the farms in Cuba*
City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, is a rather conservative online source of news and comment - mostly comment. The picture above accompanied an article that appeared in City Journal, and that I plan to write about in this blog posting. The Bible and the flag properly indicate where City Journal is mostly coming from. I subscribe to its email bulletins, and a recent bulletin was titled, "The 'Liberal' In All Of Us." The article so headlined was, in fact, a review of a recent book, The Struggle for a Decent Politics: On “Liberal” as an Adjective. Michael Walzer is the author of the book. Fred Bauer wrote the review for City Journal

Walzer is identified by Bauer and City Journal as the "longtime editor of the democratic-socialist magazine Dissent." The magazine itself (click the link to the title) doesn't mention the "socialist" part of Bauer's characterization. Dissent calls itself, "a mainstay of the democratic left," and it lists the following contributors: "Hannah Arendt, Richard Wright, Norman Mailer, A. Philip Randolph, Michael Harrington, Dorothy Day, Bayard Rustin, Czesław Miłosz, Barbara Ehrenreich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Chinua Achebe, Ellen Willis, Octavio Paz, Martha Nussbaum, Roxane Gay, and many others." If you don't recognize a name, feel free to look that person up, to see how many of them call themselves "democratic-socialists." 
I am beginning this blog posting, as you can see, by attempting to throw just a little bit of shade on City Journal, for trying to prejudice its readers against Walzer and his claims on behalf of "liberalism." At least, that's how I would characterize what City Journal is trying to do. I, personally, don't have any great familiarity with Walzer, and I don't have any problem with that "democratic-socialist" label, either. I am betting, however, that most readers of City Journal don't much cotton to anything that has any taint of "socialism" about it. 
Why have Bauer and City Journal injected that "socialist" word, if not to use it as a warning to readers? Wikipedia, to the degree we think that it formulates its comments in a rather "neutral" manner, doesn't mention that Walzer has any "socialist" connections, but Wikipedia does tell us that Walzer has "written over twenty-seven books, to date, and has published over 300 articles, essays, and book reviews in Dissent, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Harpers, and many philosophical and political science journals." Wikipedia calls Walzer a "public intellectual." I suggest that we dismiss Bauer's implicit warning about Walzer's supposed "socialism." What about his latest book?
Actually, I think Bauer kind of likes Walzer's book. Bauer concludes his review with this statement: 
While Walzer is forthrightly a man of the Left, his account of the “liberal” in The Struggle for a Decent Politics contains insights that might be valuable to people with other perspectives. Walzer reminds us that a spirit of temperance and openness can be in harmony with other commitments—and that maintaining those commitments to others may be an important part of preserving the “liberal,” broadly understood (emphasis added).
Since I haven't read Walzer's book, only the Bauer review, I don't know how well Bauer captured what Walzer is trying to say. What I have focused on is the title Walzer chose for his book. Walzer's title emphasizes that he is in search of a "decent politics." In fact, a "decent" politics must always give credit for good faith to those with whom one might disagree, politically. A "decent" politics must always recognize that our inevitable disagreements about what we should collectively do are not a reason either to attempt to marginalize those with whom we disagree on the issues, or (even worse) to extirpate them. Bauer seems to say that Walzer does call for a "spirit of temperance and openness" towards those with whom we may well disagree.

In politics, as in life, we are "in it together" - and that means that we are in it together with all our disagreements. Those disagreements define the "plurality" that Hannah Arendt has made the touchstone of her political writings. A glad acceptance of and recognition of our plurality, instead of a demand that our own views be accepted, and imposed, is where a "decent" politics begins. That kind of politics doesn't require that we "agree." It doesn't mean that "one side" has to prevail, and the other side "lose." Decency demands that we live together, and find a way to get along, despite our disagreements. Look at Bauer's closing statement again, and the highlighted text. That is what a "decent" politics requires, and it seems that this is what Walzer is saying in his book.
"Getting along, despite our disagreements," is not the same thing as capitulating to something you just don't think is right. As Bob Dylan has recognized (see the epigraph), our need is to live together - but we always do that only "to a degree." A "decent" politics won't try to make me let "Barry Goldwater" move in next door, and marry my daughter.

And I am not going to let that happen, either! 


Friday, May 26, 2023

#146 / My Advice: Don't Bite

It appears, from a New York Times' article in the March 21, 2023, edition, that "Crypto Seeks A Fresh Start":
At a cryptocurrency conference in Denver this month, a group of singers clad in bright orange onesies took the stage to perform what one industry website later described as an anthem for the crypto faithful, a “blockchain ‘Blowin’ in the Wind.’”

The chorus was a list of crypto’s most notorious villains, from the trash-talking entrepreneur Do Kwon to the disgraced FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, punctuated by four-letter expletives.

“In the next bull market, we promise not to use,” the song continued, “centralized exchanges run by these toxic dudes.” 
So, now the "Crypto Gurus" are referencing Bob Dylan. Well, I have previously commented on "Crypto" quite a bit.  Here is a list of some of my past pronouncements, with links. My past pronouncements have also referenced Mr. Dyan, and specifically his song, "Maybe Someday," with that line I find so congruent with with "crypto" is all about: "Maybe, someday, you will understand; something for nothing is everybody's plan!"
If you'd like to see my thoughts on cryptocurrency, please pick a link!

I have, as demonstrated above, laid down a lot of words on cryptocurrency. However, you don't need to read all my past blog postings to understand my basic message about cryptocurrency. In fact, I can sum up my thoughts in just TWO words, the same words I have used above, in my headline: 

Don't Bite!
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Thursday, May 25, 2023

#145 / Let's Talk About Totalitarian Dystopia


That is Caitlin Johnstone, pictured.  One of her recent postings claims that "The Totalitarian Dystopia Is Already Here." Here is an explanation, from the column I have linked:

People imagine totalitarian dystopia as some dark threat looming in the future because they don’t understand how profoundly unfree we already are right now. They think we’re free because we can choose what to buy at the supermarket and call the president “Brandon,” but we’re not. They imagine that our rulers have some grand conspiracy to create a dystopia where they can force us all to do as they wish, not realizing that we’re already in a dystopia where we are doing exactly as they wish. It really can’t be improved upon. They’re just locking it in.
Seriously, think about it: what could the rulers of western society possibly extract from us that they’re not already getting? There’s no meaningful political opposition, no antiwar movement, no anti-capitalist movement, very little critical thought — they’ve got total control. Everything we do in this dystopia is designed to funnel profit into the coffers of the oligarchs and power into the hands of the imperialists, and all efforts to resist and change these funneling systems have been successfully quashed by mass-scale psychological manipulation.
This totalitarian dystopia looks like freedom because they let us more or less do what we want, while controlling what it is that we want to do (emphasis added).
Now, I think Johnstone is right that our current public policies pretty much reflect the interests of the "oligarchs," the large corporations and wealthy individuals that have such a disproportionate impact on how our politics, economics, and society operate. I absolutely agree that we need a politics that advances an antiwar agenda, and that puts a target on the back of racial and economic inequality. 
My reaction to our politics, however, is not to tell everyone that "our rulers" have "total and complete control." I don't think that is very motivating. In fact, I think it is profoundly discouraging. If anyone were to believe Johnstone's statements to the effect that we are under the "total and complete control" of an oligarchy, then we might as well just give up, right?
Instead of telling people that "our rulers" are in control, I prefer to remind everyone that we have a system of government that will permit ordinary people to "rule" themselves. "Self-government," however, only works for "the governed," when "the governed" get involved themselves. 
I would like to hope that everyone can see that "self-government" is, at least "theoretically," possible. Johnstone seems to say it's not. I say, let's take back control of the country ourselves - instead of telling ourselves that we can't do that. 
Taking control over our own affairs is actually what "self-government" is all about. Nobody else is going to do it for us, so we need to reallocate the way we spend our time - and a lot of us have to start making "self-government" our highest priority. If we were to do that - if even 15% of us were to do that - then I am convinced that we could actually achieve the kind of world we want. 

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Wednesday, May 24, 2023

#144 / A Revealing Little Phrase


Pictured is Roseanne Barr,  who is described as follows by Wikipedia:
Roseanne Cherrie Barr (born November 3, 1952) is an American actress, comedian, writer and producer. Barr began her career in stand-up comedy before gaining acclaim in the television sitcom Roseanne (1988–1997; 2018). She won an Emmy and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress for her work on the show.

Barr became a stand-up comedian in 1980. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she gained fame through her role in Roseanne and other performances. Barr sparked controversy when performing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a nationally aired baseball game on July 25, 1990. After singing the anthem in what many perceived to be a deliberately disrespectful manner, Barr grabbed her groin and spat. This performance was met with condemnation from baseball fans and sportswriters, and was called "disgraceful" by then-President George H. W. Bush.
Roseanne was recently mentioned in a brief little article in The New York Times, "Intricate, Eccentric, and Enraged." As is often the case, one little phrase in the article stood out for me, which led me to this quick commentary. Here is the final paragraph of the article, with that phrase highlighted:

Watch Barr’s early sets and you will find not only a quick comic mind, but also tightly written jokes. Neither appear here. Of course, it’s not just Barr who has changed. Comedy has, too. The scene is more political, polarized, desperate for outrage. Jim Jeffries prefaces the trans jokes in his new Netflix special by saying he’s doing them because he wants the press that Dave Chappelle and Ricky Gervais received. I’m sure he’d say it’s a joke, but I believe it. When Barr trots out a stale gag about gender, riffing on the question “What is a woman?” she gets a predictable roar. It’s a reminder that Barr once ran for president, and how much comedy and politics have blurred. Cheap nostalgia can be powerful in both arenas. At one point, Barr jokes, “The world has changed a lot since I was alive (emphasis added).”
"Politics" may have changed a lot, too. Our politics, today, does, at least to me, seem "desperate for outrage." I think that is a revealing little phrase.

It is my belief that a politics "desperate for outrage," a politics that wants to uncover everything that is tarnished, wrong, and despicable about our sometimes less than admirable efforts at self-government, is a politics doomed to send us all in the wrong direction. As most of us realize, "comedy" is often a good route to insight; it's a way to talk about truths that are hard to discuss in neutral terms. More and more "outrage" is what lots of people think is the "real story" about our government. 

That's not, really, the "truth" about politics - at least, not the way I see it - and if we keep looking for "outrage," as we contemplate our political world, we are walking away from - not walking towards - an opportunity to make our efforts at self-government succeed.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2023

#143 / Time Is Money: Right?

I think about "time" quite frequently, and some of my reflections have appeared in this blog - often with a reference to the founder of Quakerism, George Fox, and/or with a reference to Hannah Arendt and her book, Between Past And Future. Try my blog posting titled, "Trucker Time," if you would like to know the general drift of my thoughts - and if you'd like to see what Fox said.
In The New York Times newspaper dated Sunday, April 16, 2023, there were some very interesting articles bearing on "time." The image above appeared on the cover of The Times Book Review, and almost the entirety of The New York Times Magazine, that day, referenced the subject of "time."
In "What Do People Do, All Day," as this article appeared online, you will get quick vignettes of different people, doing different things. You will get even more photos if you can access the printed edition. 
In "You Call This ‘Flexible Work’?", The Times Magazine not only has some great cartoon depictions, it raises the spectre of a "workplace" totally monitored and controlled, even though that "workplace" is in our own home. In essence, The Times is suggesting, the "Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938" is being undermined: 

The article that made the most immediate impression on me was a book review, by Tatiana Schlossberg, outlining what Jenny Odell has written in her recent book, Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond The Clock. The article attracted my attention largely because Schlossberg begins her review with the following statement: "Climate change is doing strange things to time."

That is a pretty intriguing statement, don't you think?
Schlossberg goes on to tell us, in her review, that "it is in the gap between present and future, where outcomes are not yet determined, that Jenny Odell enters with her paradigm-destroying new book." This statement is an allusion to Hannah Arendt's book, mentioned above, though Schlossberg slightly misses the point. In fact, as Arendt says, we live, inevitably, in "the present," and it is "the present" that is the gap just mentioned - that gap between "past" and "future" where we have the ability to take action and to create a whole new order in reality.

At any rate, I have sent away for Odell's book, and to persuade you that you might want to do the same, consider this, another statement from Schlossberg's review:

Odell often describes human time as “time pressure,” by which she means the fungibility of time that makes it interchangeable with “stuff,” thereby giving it a price — which is to say wage labor.) These two timelines are so mismatched, she writes, as to inspire feelings of “lonely absurdity.”

The phenomena of “individual time pressure and climate dread,” Odell writes, “share a set of deep roots, and they have more in common than just fear.” European colonialism, she argues, let loose upon the world an economy of extraction, both of human labor and of natural resources. Our problems stem from the economic model that makes “stuff” and assigns a monetary value to that which is priceless: our lives, the miracles of physics and coincidences and evolution that have given rise to everything on this planet, and our continued ability to live here (emphasis added).
Time is Money? Maybe not. It could be that we have just been tricked into thinking that it is!

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Monday, May 22, 2023

#142 / Paid $2 Million!


I obtained the image above from the online publication, Entrepreneur, which reported on how a ghostwriter made $200,000 during 2022, writing tweets for venture capitalists. The unnamed ghostwriter only had to work five hours a week to generate this income, so he had a "real job," too. 

As it turns out, "political" ghostwriting may be a lot more lucrative than that. On April 15, 2023, The New York Times reported that ghostwriters working for New York Governor Kathy Hochul were paid two million dollars for providing her help on her annual State of the State address. That was "taxpayer" money, of course!

I remain enamored with the very American idea that our nation is dedicated to a system of democratic "self-government," in which we, ourselves, ARE the government. You will perhaps remember that President Abraham Lincoln put it this way in his Gettysburg Address
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth (emphasis added). 
If there is dissatisfaction with government today (and I am assuming that you agree with me that there is a profound dissatisfaction with our government today - from all sides, and representing all political polarities), then isn't it true our dissatisfaction with our government springs from the fact that we don't, actually, practice what we preach, and that we don't do what we say we believe in? We can blame ourselves that we don't actually practice "self-government," but that doesn't stop us from being resentful of those who preside over the current governmental apparatus. 

When I was an elected member of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors, I talked about "self-government" a lot, and I contrasted "self-government" with a governmental structure that operated on the basis that we "elect the people, who hire the people, who run our lives." 

Our political "leaders" were elected, presumably, because a majority of voters thought that they would have the ability actually to lead and to "govern," but as Governor Hochul has demonstrated, our elected leaders, ever more frequently, are apparently either unwilling or unable to do their job themselves. They can't even write their own speeches. They need to hire the people who then do the work, and those who get hired tend to be all too well paid.
It is my hypothesis that if we could relearn how "self-government" is actually supposed to work, a lot of the current political polarization and dissatisfaction with our government would quickly disappear. Furthermore, I think we might start making progress on the things we desperately need to do.

And how is "self-government" actually supposed to work? 

"Self-government" requires that we get directly involved in government ourselves. That includes getting involved, ourselves, in the "politics" that gives us government. In other words, we need to reallocate our personal time, so instead of playing video games and watching films streaming to our television sets and computers, we need to go to public meetings, study governmental documents, meet with others on issues we care about, etc. If we want "self-government," then we need to recognize that "citizenship" requires work, and the work required is work that we need to do, ourselves. We can't hire "ghost-citizens" to do it for us.
Does that make sense? Unless that does make sense, then I think that our current situation is the inevitable default result, and we are going to continue to live with a system by which we "elect the people, who hire the people, who actually run our lives." 
If we do that, it means that we're not going to be happy with our government, and we're going to end up paying $2 million when the Governor of a big state has to make a speech.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

#141 / Environmentalism Is A Religion


The "Spread Great Ideas" website wants to spread the ideas of Michael Crichton (pictured above). 
Crichton, who died in 2008, was both an author and a filmmaker. Wikipedia tells us that Crichton wrote and directed Westworld (1973), the first film to utilize 2D computer-generated imagery. He also directed: Coma (1978), The First Great Train Robbery (1978), Looker (1981), and Runaway (1984). Crichton was the creator of the television series ER (1994–2009), and several of his novels were adapted into films, most notably the Jurassic Park franchise
Crichton also identified himself as a "dedicated conservationist," and the "Spread Great Ideas" website goes out of its way to emphasize that being a "conservationist" is quite a different thing from being an "environmentalist." Crichton was no "environmentalist," at least as he and "Spread Great Ideas" define the term.

In a 2003 speech at the Commonwealth Club of California, Crichton said that the then current approaches to the environment were inappropriate. He urged his audience to approach environmental issues with a "scientific" rather than an "emotional" mind, and he particularly claimed that "Environmentalism Is A Religion." Crichton claimed that "Environmentalism" is one of "the most powerful religions in the Western World," and that it is "the religion of choice for urban atheists." 
You can click right here for a full transcript of Crichton's Commonwealth Club speech. One basic thrust of Crichton's speech is that so-called "environmentalists" are "romantic" about the environment, and that their approach is not "fact-based." The dire predictions of the "environmentalists" are over-dramatized, the way Crichton saw it. "Faith" is substituting in for the actual truth. Here is how Crichton puts it:

If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.

There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all.

We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability.

Sustainability is salvation in the church of the environment. Just as organic food is its communion, that pesticide-free wafer that the right people with the right beliefs, imbibe.

Eden, the fall of man, the loss of grace, the coming doomsday—these are deeply held mythic structures. They are profoundly conservative beliefs. They may even be hard-wired in the brain, for all I know. I certainly don’t want to talk anybody out of them, as I don’t want to talk anybody out of a belief that Jesus Christ is the son of God who rose from the dead. But the reason I don’t want to talk anybody out of these beliefs is that I know that I can’t talk anybody out of them.

These are not facts that can be argued. These are issues of faith. And so it is, sadly, with environmentalism. "Facts aren’t necessary, because the tenets of environmentalism are all about belief."
As far as I can tell, the "Spread Great Ideas" effort was begun by Brian David Crane, who self-identifies as "a digital entrepreneur and aspiring polymath." I have concluded, based on the following, from his website, that Crane would consider himself to be another one of those "Masters of the Universe," who have come to believe that they have a particularly acute insight into just about everything. Fabulous wealth can have that effect, it seems! Here is Crane's website self-introduction: 

I moved to Silicon Valley to be part of the original leadership team at Inflection. Thanks to several amazing mentors, I learned how to build and profitably scale web properties. To date, I’ve helped launch a handful of multimillion-dollar digital brands, including, which was bought by for $100 million, just three years after its launch.

While at Inflection, I created a side hustle: Spread Great Ideas, through which I began investing in digital brands and projects that advance causes which are near and dear to my heart i.e. liberty, civil rights, philosophy, and personal sovereignty. To this day, our team at Spread Great Ideas helps those brands profitably reach a larger audience.
I would probably never have found out about "Spread Great Ideas," or the Crichton speech, or about Brian David Crane, if I had not published a blog posting on June 29, 2015, which I titled, "Planetary Opportunities." A "Spread Great Ideas" staff member apparently found that 2015 blog post, and sent me an email, hoping that I would add a link to that posting that would tie to Crichton's "Environmentalism Is A Religion Speech." I assume that the purpose of seeking such a link was to spread the news about the "Spread Great Ideas" effort, which this blog posting will, I trust, accomplish. 

I want to say, however, that I don't really agree with the way "Spread Great Ideas" characterizes "environmentalism," and the way the group denigrates it. It appears to me that one of the "Great Ideas" that Crane and his "Spread Great Ideas" effort wants to advance is the idea that we don't need to worry very much, if at all, about the fact that we are, ultimately, totally dependent on the World of Nature. 
Human ingenuity, money, and a "can do" attitude can accomplish quite a bit - and I am all for them - but all that won't save us if we ignore what I said in that 2015 blog posting, linking to an even earlier one: "Nature Bats Last."

Saturday, May 20, 2023

#140 / Doom Loop


Lots of people seem to be thinking that we are caught inside a "doom loop," or maybe several different kinds of doom loops! An explanation of what it means to be caught in a "doom loop" can be provided as follows: Things are bad, and are getting worse. Everything bad that happens makes some other bad things happen, so the doom gets darker, and the doom gets deeper, and catastrophe ultimately ensues. 
A "doom loop" signifies that a possible catastrophe will become an inevitable catastrophe. Things are bad. We're in a "doom loop," and doom results. You get the picture! That "doom loop" thinking appears to be going around.
The diagram above shows how the Euro-zone is heading towards an economic disaster. The discussion that accompanies this "doom loop" diagram references an article in The Economist.
To provide another example, the San Francisco Chronicle has been speculating about the future of the City's downtown. That future is being described in the following terms: "Can San Francisco dodge a 'doom loop'?"
The San Jose Mercury News has the same concern, with its article titled, "Bay Area exodus: Wealthy resident departures worsen ‘doom loop’ fears."

New York Times columnist David Brooks is also worried by the "doom loop" phenomenon: "My greatest fear," he says, "is that we've entered a distrust doom loop: People are so untrusting of their institutions and their neighbors that they are unwilling to reach out, to actively renew their communities and their country, and so the dysfunction will continue, and the distrust will increase, and so on and so on."

Vox, an online magazine, has written about the future of public transportation, and Vox is at least trying to think positively, and to find some way out - some way to escape the "doom loop" they see coming. A recent article is titled, "How to save America’s public transit systems from a doom spiral."
In the Silicon Valley, where you might expect to hear applause when a major new technology is created, people are not, apparently, all that happy about the deployment of the newest A.I. chatbots. "Catastrophic thinking" seems to be prevailing, with all the characteristics of a "doom loop." At least, that is what David Wallace-Wells is reporting. Wallace-Wells is the author of The Uninhabitable Earth, and it's pretty easy to discern a characteristic set of "doom loop" circumstances in his report on global warming.
I am quite familiar with the "doom loop" phenomenon - and also with its antidote. I still vividly remember my first exposure to a discussion that opened my eyes to the phenomenon known as "circular and cumulative causation." I found out about it when I was an undergraduate student, at Stanford University. More or less by chance, I picked up a slim little book by a Swedish economist, Gunnar Myrdal - who was, by the way, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. The title of the book I am talking about is Economic Theory And Under-Developed Regions. That book was published in 1957, and I believe it is now out of print. I value the copy I have! Myrdal makes clear that the phenomenon he describes can operate in both directions. His book was about how to stimulate economic development in underdeveloped regions. His prescription was just like a "doom loop," but moving in the opposite, and positive, direction. Start doing good things! Everything good that happens means more good things can and will happen, and..... Voilà!
My understanding of reality postulates that we live, most immediately, in a "human world," and that this human world is created by our own actions. Nothing is inevitable in the world we create. "Doom," specifically, is not inevitable. It is quite possible that "doom" may eventuate, but "doom loops" are not self-generating or self-sustaining. We can observe what has happened in the past, and what is happening now (and we may well be able to take measurements within a real, and growing, "doom loop," and see that such a "doom loop" is in progress). However, the continued progress of the "doom loops" we discern is not preordained. Description is not destiny. The reality we create - the reality that eventually precipitates itself from our past and current actions - will ultimately depend on what we do, and the actions we take. "Possibility" (including both good and bad possibilities) is the commanding category for the world in which we most immediately live. "Inevitability" is not!
Because that is true, and because the principle of circular and cumulative causation can operate in both directions, our future is never "predictable." Something new and revolutionary may occur, and that can break any "doom loop" whose progress we may be observing. 

When we start hearing about all sorts of "doom loops" (as we currently are), we need to begin charting new set of processes that can change the direction of the processes now underway - the ones taking us towards "doom."

Because we tend to see ourselves, mostly, as "observers," as opposed to seeing ourselves as "actors," the "doom loops" that we construct in our minds, based on the accurate observations we make, seem to take on the quality of reality itself. 

However, this mistakes our actual situation. The processes that result in the realities we inhabit are always "loops," because the realities we inhabit are all the product of some type of circular and cumulative causation. So, let's not be fooled. The "doom loops" we observe are not "inevitabilities." They may seem like it, but that's not an accurate perception of where we really are. "Observers," when that is all they do, find themselves trapped in the "loops" they see around them, whether those "loops" are doom-tinged or benign. Forget the "doom loops," at least insofar as you are tempted to think them as defining some sort of inevitable reality that is coming for us. 
Action is the antidote. 
Let's do what we need to do to start those "loops" turning in a positive direction. "Possibility," not "inevitability" is the nature of the reality we actually inhabit. Mesmerized by our "greatest fear," to use the words of David Brooks, we may forget, as we watch those "doom loops" spiral, that we can take an action that will change the world.

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Friday, May 19, 2023

#139 / Kudos For Kennan


I think of Evan Osnos, who writes for The New Yorker, as the magazine's "China Expert." Click the link to his name for a Wikipedia write up. Osnos has a pretty impressive resume. 

In a "Talk Of The Town" comment in the March 6, 2023, edition of The New Yorker, Osnos talks about "Cold War 2.0." Online, which is where you will see the comment if you click on the link I'll provide, Osnos' headline reads: "Sliding Toward A New Cold War." 
While Osnos' comment focuses on the tensions building between the United States and China, he harks back to the diplomacy of George F. Kennan, in framing the discussion:

George F. Kennan, the architect of America’s “containment” policy toward the Soviets, often lamented that his theory was used to justify a military buildup rather than a sustained commitment to political and economic diplomacy. In a new biography, the historian Frank Costigliola writes that, after Kennan “spent the four years from 1944 to 1948 promoting the Cold War, he devoted the subsequent forty to undoing what he and others had wrought.” The Soviet example holds only limited lessons for today, though, because of China’s economic scale. Toward the end of the Cold War, U.S. trade with the Soviet Union was about two billion dollars a year; U.S. trade with China is now nearly two billion dollars a day.
Here is Osnos' final observation in his New Yorker comment: 

Kennan, to his final days, warned about the seductive logic of wars, both cold and hot. In 2002, at the age of ninety-eight, he campaigned against the march to war in Iraq, arguing that history suggests “you might start a war with certain things on your mind” but often end up “fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before.”
There is, I definitely believe, a "seductive logic" of wars. Kudos to Kennan for pointing that out, and for pointing it out, repeatedly, for something like forty years, if you credit what Osnos and Costigliola say.
As I consider where we are today, vis-à-vis the possibility that we might escalate our current conflict with China, I think I have only one thing to add. We don't have forty years to figure out that we need to stop planning for wars, and to start investing our time, talents, and money in efforts to preserve the habitability of Planet Earth, and thus the ability to maintain the human civilization we have created. 
Planning for wars - and spending our resources doing so - is just a way to fall prey to war's seduction to destruction. 
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Thursday, May 18, 2023

#138 / Seeing What We Expect To See (Pretty Much)


An Op-Ed that appeared in the May 17, 2023, edition of The New York Times bore the following title: "Firearms Classes Taught Me, and America, a Very Dangerous Lesson." Harel Shapira, who wrote the Op-Ed, is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, in Austin. What lesson is Shapira talking about?

Basically, the lesson that Shapira wants us to learn is that we generally see exactly what we are expecting to see. He is talking, specifically, about "gun safety" training sessions that teach participants to be constantly aware of potential dangers that might require them to use a gun to protect themselves. I would suggest that the lesson can be generalized, and that we tend to see, always, what we expect. Once we know that this is true, we need to start expecting better things, don't you think?
Here is the last paragraph of Shapira's essay, as published in The Times

With more than 200 mass shootings in our country this year alone, advocates of gun regulation often cite the tragic number of lives lost or the fact that gun-related injuries have surpassed car accidents as the nation’s leading cause of injury-related death among people under 24. But another, less recognized casualty is the kind of public interactions that make democracy viable. The N.R.A. says that “an armed society is a polite society.” But learning to carry a gun isn’t teaching Americans to have good manners. It’s training them to be suspicious and atomized, learning to protect themselves, no matter how great the risk to others. It’s training them to not be citizens (emphasis added). 
There is probably no more powerful illustration of exactly the phenomenon discussed by Shapira than the horrific video I am making available, below. The video documents a security guard at a Walgreens in San Francisco killing Banko Brown, an alleged shoplifter. If Brown was, in fact, shoplifting, the amount in question was about $14 in candy. Click here for an article from 48 Hills, for those who haven't already learned about this incident. The video follows:

If we want to be "citizens," Shapira advises us, we need to see each other as "connected," and to see ourselves as "in this together," and not as hostile "others," about whom we need, always, to be suspicious. 

As I say, I think this is a general lesson, not only one applicable to the issue about whether we should all be carrying guns around, to "defend ourselves." This is one more example of where our "mind models" need to be attuned to expect the best. Not the worst!
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Wednesday, May 17, 2023

#137 / Taxing The Rich


That is Dan Walters, pictured - and NOT the baseball player Dan Walters. Dan Walters the baseball player, apparently, played for the San Diego Padres. The Dan Walters I am thinking about has been a journalist for almost sixty years, writing for The Sacramento Union before that newspaper became defunct. Walters was covering the Capitol, and writing for The Sacramento Bee, when I showed up in Sacramento in 1995, to lobby for the environment on behalf of PCL, The Planning and Conservation League
I would frequently see Walters in committee hearings, and in the Capitol hallways. He was a curmudgeon-type figure, and I think his right-leaning tendencies, and his dyspepsia when contemplating our state's ever more left-leaning politics, seem to have become more pronounced with the years. Walters is no fan of what author Curt Gentry once called "the late, great State of California." At least, he is no fan of our current Governor, or Legislature, or our politics in general. Walters now makes speeches and writes for the online news source, Cal/Matters. I am reporting, today, on one of his opinion columns, published by Cal/Matters, and reprinted in my local newspaper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The column that got my attention appeared in the edition of The Sentinel that was published on Saturday, April 15, 2023 (the date that has traditionally been recognized as "tax day," though not this year). Walters' column was titled, "Battles over taxing the rich abound in liberal California." Click that link to read his column, if you'd like. 

Walters' argument is clear: "In deeply 'blue' California, there's never a shortage of efforts to raise taxes on the state's wealthiest residents or corporations to support expansions of government programs." Walters does not, generally, think that this is a good thing. However, he is comforted, clearly, by the following observation: "There's no shortage of efforts to impose new taxes on the wealthy or corporations in California, but few of them survive the political process." 
While Walters doesn't write this out, I think it's pretty clear that the following text would describe his reaction to the situation he describes: "THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT!"
Not too long ago, I wrote a blog posting about "Mind Models." That blog posting appeared online, as it turns out, on April 14th, just one day before the date that Walters' column on "taxing the rich" showed up on my front porch, along with the Sentinel, sometime before 5:30 in the morning. That may be why I took notice of Walters' column, which I think reflects one view (but not the only possible view) of how we can think about taxes. 

If our "mind model" is basically "individualistic," a "mind model" in which the "individual" is the most important thing, and the source of everything good that happens, then legislation by a majority, to take away money from certain individuals, smacks of a kind of oppressive behavior. It is actually close to thuggery. Luckily, says Walters, the rich are able to fight back, and prevent too many occasions of what amounts to "theft" of their individual economic winnings.

Still, what the majority wants to do is obvious. Having greater numbers, the "less rich" voters, in "blue" California, are constantly trying to take away the earned wealth of those who have made themselves wealthy through their individual efforts, and those "less rich" voters are using methods that amount to government-sanctioned force. As I said, above, the implicit comment that Walters makes on this situation is that we can be thankful that the "less wealthy" aren't successful too often in pulling off this "tax the rich" robbery. 
Suppose, though, we don't have an individualistic "mind model," but conceptualize our existence as one that emphasizes the fact that we are "all in this together"? How, then, should we think about taxes?

If we give some primacy to the need for our greater community to achieve important objectives, from public works projects to supporting individuals who may need health care, housing, education, and even food, then "taxing the rich" amounts to finding ways for those who have the ability to do so to contribute to our overall, community goals. 

For me, at least, it's pretty clear that there are some important truths to be discovered in both "mind models." 

Personally, I'd like to see more attention paid to achieving our "community" objectives, which means that those who have the greatest ability to help finance our community efforts do need to contribute "more" - more than those who have a lesser ability to contribute, and more than they have already contributed.

Former Governor Jerry Brown, mentioned in the biographical information about Walters that I linked above, and will link again, here, used to describe the kind of politics he advocated as "paddling a canoe." 

Maybe we need a "mind model" that lets us put the paddle in on the "right," and then in on the "left," too. All so we can go straight, of course!

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