Tuesday, February 25, 2020

#56 / Financialization



Until I read Paul Krugman's column published in The New York Times on February 21, 2020, I wasn't aware of the term "financialization." After I read Krugman's column, I tried to find out more, and located a Wharton University blog that discusses the concept. That blog post (from which I got the image above) refers to a book by Rana Foroohar, Makers and Takers: How Wall Street Destroyed Main Street. Here is a quote from that blog post:

According to Time magazine journalist Rana Foroohar’s new book, the "financialization" of banking, and of business in general, has hampered real growth and innovation while exacerbating inequality. The result is an “upside-down” economy where finance, instead of serving as a catalyst, has become a headwind. And in the wake of a devastating financial crisis fueled by excessive debt and credit, we are seeing a smoke-and-mirrors recovery driven largely by more of the same.

Krugman discusses the concept of "financialization" in the following way, as he gives his quick review of the recent Democratic Party Presidential Debate held in Nevada: 

Wednesday’s Democratic debate was far more informative than previous debates. What we learned, in particular, was that as a presidential candidate, Michael Bloomberg is a great businessman — and that Elizabeth Warren remains a force to be reckoned with. 
Both lessons ran very much counter to the narrative that the news media has been telling in recent weeks. On one side, there has been a palpable eagerness on the part of some news organizations and many pundits to elevate Bloomberg; on the other side, complaints by Warren supporters about her “erasure” from news coverage and polling aren’t wrong. 
What does all this mean for the nomination? I have no idea. But maybe the Warren-Bloomberg confrontation will help refocus discussion away from so-called Medicare for all — which isn’t going to be enacted, no matter who wins — to an issue where it matters a lot which Democrat prevails. Namely, are we going to do anything to rein in the financialization of the U.S. economy
During the U.S. economy’s greatest generation — the era of rapid, broadly shared growth that followed World War II — Wall Street was a fairly peripheral part of the picture. When people thought about business leaders, they thought about people running companies that actually made things, not people who got rich through wheeling and dealing (emphasis added).

Oh, yes! Those were the days. My father was a businessman, the vice-president of Lenkurt Electric Company, based in San Carlos, California. My dad was working for a company that "actually made things." How about we give that another try?

And... if we do want to try to transform the current realities into what business used to be all about, and to fight back against the "financialization" of the United States' economy, it seems to me that it's a better strategy to pick a president who talks about "working men and women" (who make things), as  opposed to a billionaire who reached his billionaire status by his work on Wall Street. 

Krugman doesn't weigh in on that topic, but I'm not shy!



Image Credit:
https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/pitfalls-financialization-american-business/


Monday, February 24, 2020

#55 / Here's A Little "Grammar Gram"



Anyone who writes a lot (I am counting myself in that number) must, inevitably, face challenges posed by the so-called "rules" of grammar. 

There is a website (Easy Grammar Tutorials) that provides a daily grammar refresher for those who have enrolled in the website's grammar course. The publisher calls those daily bulletins "Grammar Grams." Click right here for the link.

Today, stimulated by a front-page article in The New York Times from a month or so ago, which article violated, in its very first sentence, a grammatical injunction related to "split infinitives," I decided to sound off here on the "rule" against split infinitives, and to provide you with a little "Grammar Gram" of my own. 

More and more, the idea that it is gramatically incorrect to "split infinitives" has been kicked to the curb. Lots of the grammar advisories available on the Internet will tell you that the "rule" against splitting infinitives isn't, really, a "rule" at all. Nonetheless, I still adhere to the long-accepted understanding that splitting infinitives is grammatically incorrect. 

Many don't even know what that "splitting infinitives" thing is all about, but I note that the graphic above, pulled into this blog posting for visual interest, puts "infinitives" at the very top of the grammar-related word list, perhaps indicating that how to use infinitives is somewhat important. At any rate, it is good to think about the issue, in my opinion.

All verbs have an "infinitive" form, before they are conjugated. In English, the infinitive form of a verb is written as "TO ... verb." The infinitive is BOTH WORDS. There may be two words, but there is only ONE infinitive.

The following examples illustrate properly stated infinitives, as expressed in English: "To eat," "To run," "To limit." When an infinitive is used in a sentence, both elements are supposed to be kept together. If they aren't, if something gets in between the "to" and the verb, that is called "splitting the infinitive," and it has long been held that it is a grammatical error to do that. 

In that New York Times article I mentioned, which focused on the Trump Administration's efforts to gut rulemaking by the Environmental Protection Agency, the first line was written as follows:

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking (emphasis added).

If you consider that it is wrong to split infinitives, then the grammatically correct way to have written that first sentence would have been to say, "The Trump administration is preparing significantly to limit..."

Or, it would be proper to say, "The Trump administration is preparing to limit, significantly..."

The point is to keep both parts of the infinitive together, because although they are expressed by two words, the inifinitive is ONE thing. There is no comparable "splitting the infinitive" problem in Spanish or French, because the infinitive form of verbs in those languages is ONE word, not TWO words. In Spanish, for example,  "To eat" is "Comer." "To run" is "Correr." "To limit" is "Limitar." 

When The New York Times (and even The New Yorker, I am sad to say) abandons the long-time grammatical "rule" that it is wrong to "split infinitives," old guys like me can become agitated. 

Color me agitated! I know; I know! Rules are "made to be broken." It's no "big thing." The reader can still understand what you're saying, whether you split your infinitives or not. But.... dividing the one thing (the infinitive) into its two parts, and then pushing them apart by putting other words in the middle, is to muddle our understanding. That's what I think. In The New York Times' example, cited above, a reader can unconsciously start thinking that "to significantly," or "significantaly to" is some sort of real action when the action involved is "to limit."

At any rate, in my opinion, if you write a lot, you should honor the craft and not divide a unitary infinitive by splitting it into two parts!

End of my Grammar Gram for today!


Image Credit:
https://www.donegallanguageschool.com/grammar-a-necessary-evil/


Sunday, February 23, 2020

#54 / The Bernie Sanders "Juggernaut"



Michelle Goldberg writes columns for The New York Times. They are widely republished in other newspapers. I was interested in the column that appeared in the January 29, 2020, edition of the San Jose Mercury News, which addressed the "electability" of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The column was titled, "Here's what is actually driving the Bernie Sanders juggernaut."

The content of Goldberg's column didn't exactly jibe with the implicit promise contained in the title. The column didn't directly state what Goldberg thinks is "driving the Bernie Sanders juggernaut." She didn't say, in other words, "here is what is driving the Bernie Sanders juggernaut..." and then provide her analysis, to explain a phenomenon about which she is, obviously, very ambivalent. 

Neither Goldberg, I'd say, and certainly not The New York Times, is enthusiastic about the "Socialist" who was leading in the polls on the day that Goldberg's column appeared, and who did so well yesterday, in Nevada. To learn her views, I recommend you read the entire column. However, the excerpt below provides what I think is the essence of Goldberg's analysis: 

Eadon, [a 36-year-old former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party who endorsed Sanders this month, and] who was previously with Julián Castro’s campaign, didn’t take Sanders seriously in 2016. Two things changed since then. A painful nerve disease forced Eadon to become intimate with the absurdist horror of America’s health care system. And he said he saw Sanders expanding the electorate. “His ability to keep bringing in new people, and people that have not been involved before, is just such a strength electorally,” said Eadon.  
This is the paradox helping to fuel Sanders’ rise: The more he attracts people who are heedless of traditional electability concerns, the more electable he looks (emphasis added).

Correct me if I am wrong, but what I think Goldberg is saying is that the Sanders' "juggernaut," which is looking like it might make him "electable," is based on the fact that Sanders is actually telling voters that he will address the issues they care about most, and they are then responding favorably, by supporting Sanders. 

If candidates who do that aren't "electable," then we don't have a democracy. Right?

Who decides who is "electable?" In our system, it is supposed to be the voters (not major newspapers and their columnists, or even party bureaucrats)!

The "voters" means us, folks! And if you buy into the principle that the voters ought to be in charge of our politics, then it appears that the voters are in the process of making Sanders "electable" by preparing to vote for him, and they are preparing to vote for him because they believe that Sanders will sincerely try to do what he says he plans to do as president, and because what Sanders says he plans to do is something that the voters want. 

This is a feature not found in many other presidential candidates (in my view)!

The "juggernaut" thing doesn't sound very pretty (and as Goldberg compares Sanders to Trump, and "the Trump juggernaut," you don't get a warm and friendly feeling about her use of the word). Still, analyzed the way I have just analyzed it, may be that what Goldbderg calls a "juggernaut" is not so bad.

Candidates become "electable" when voters vote for them, and the idea that the voters might vote for the candidate whom they believe will actually try to do something that the voters want is rather comforting to anyone who likes democracy. 

Which I do!



Image Credit:
https://time.com/5705555/bernie-sanders-ocasio-cortez/


Saturday, February 22, 2020

#53 / Ordinary?





















Mick LaSalle (pictured above), is a movie critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. In a review yesterday, LaSalle reported that he "hated" the film Ordinary Love, which stars Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville. This judgment about the film (which I haven't seen) is coupled with a statement by LaSalle that these actors "give admirable performances," and that Manville, in particular, is "close to great" in the film.

Since the Chronicle maintains a rather formidable paywall, I am reproducing, below, the gravamen of the complaint that LaSalle makes in his review:

Tolstoy wrote that happy families are pretty much alike, and unhappy families are unhappy in different ways, but the opposite is true, at least when it comes to marriage. Unhappy marriages fracture along lines so common as to be cliched — money, in-laws, infidelity. But the happy marriages of even our closest friends are a mystery. A happy marriage is a closed circle, with its own rules and logic, which we can never penetrate. 
So during the first minutes of “Ordinary Love,” I’m thinking, “OK, here we go, a movie about ordinary love and how it works.” In the first scene, the banter between the husband and wife sounds pretty forced and not too clever. We get no sense of who these people are, except that the filmmakers apparently think that they’re really cute. But that’s OK. It’s the first five minutes. Let the movie settle in. 
Then the wife takes a shower and discovers a lump in her breast. 
Oh. So that’s how it is. 
“Ordinary Love” is not going to be a movie about marriage. It’s going to be a movie either about death or the threat of death. It’s going to be about the other bad thing that can happen — not money, not in-laws, not infidelity, but the one thing that eventually gets you even if all the others don’t....
“Ordinary Love” takes that stick and pokes you for a very simple reason: because it’s the absolute easiest thing to do....
As soon as the wife gets sick, we care about her and we care about him, not because of anything to do with them, but because we don’t want to get sick ourselves, and we don’t want our loved ones to get sick. 
For my money, a movie that capitalizes on that fear, while offering nothing else, is the cheapest possible creation, a vandal to human happiness that reminds us of that which everyone knows and must forget in order to function: You’re going to die. And everyone you care about? Them, too!

This review caused me to reread my blog post from yesterday. That's the blog post reporting on a conversation between Warren Zevon and David Letterman, with Zevon, who was suffering from an incurable illness, responding to Letterman's request that Zevon tell him "something about life and death" that Letterman might "not know now." 

Zevon's response to Letterman's question about life and death is that "you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich."

That's good advice, and the underlying truth is that this advice is good because there is nothing, whatsoever, that is "ordinary" about either life or love. 

LaSalle is correct that we are all trying to forget that we, and everyone we love, are going to die. That's true, but we are not dead yet. Not now, and "now" is all we have. "Now" is everything. "Now" is a miracle.

"Dead" is the base case. Check your telescope; examine the universe. Everywhere we look, all we see are pretty pieces of energy and matter, sparkling in a vast and profound emptiness. 

But not here at the sandwich counter. Not here on our lovely planet Earth. Not where love exists because, as another poet named Dylan has said, where love exists: 



Ordinary life? Ordinary love?

Not really. There is nothing "ordinary" about it. Death is ordinary. That we are alive, and that we can love each other, is "extraordinary" in every way.

Every life, every love, every marriage, every sandwich should be a celebration.

Let's not forget it.


Image Credit:
http://bathtubbulletin.com/ask-mick-lasalle-sfgate-com/


Friday, February 21, 2020

#52 / Good Advice: Enjoy!



I know virtually nothing about Warren Zevon, except what I have recently read in the Wikipedia article that I have linked above, and what I found out from a Peggy Noonan column in The Wall Street Journal.  

Zevon, pictured below, was an American singer-songwriter and musician. He died in 2003. According to Noonan, Zevon appeared on the "Late Show With David Letterman," in 2002, as Zevon was dying from mesothelioma. Here is Noonan's report on Zevon's conversation with Letterman: 

Mr. Letterman asked how his illness had changed him. Zevon's answers suggested he'd come to feel awe for the barely noticed gifts we're given each day. "From your perspective now," Mr. Letterman asked, "Do you know something about life and death that maybe I don't know now?" Mr. Zevon answered: "I know how much you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich."

Thank you, Warren Zevon. That's very good advice, indeed!



Image Credits:
(1) - https://us.toluna.com/thumbs/7885922/Do-you-like-Bacon,-Lettuce,-Tomato-sandwiches
(2) - https://www.wsj.com/articles/warren-zevons-wisdom-for-the-2020s-11578010521


Thursday, February 20, 2020

#51 / Going Viral



Pictured above is a new and novel coronavirus. This new virus first appeared in Wuhan, China, and is now being found in other locations around the world. The illness caused by the virus can be life threatening. A couple of the first United States cases of the illness caused by the virus were located in San Jose, California.

It is fair to say that there is great concern about the deadly nature of this new virus. The photo below, showing the streets of Wuhan, China on February 3, 2020, indicates just how much those at the epicenter of this new viral outbreak have been trying to avoid exposure. The picture is from The Atlantic, and if you click this link you can see even more photographs that demonstrate just how afraid of human contact people in Wuhan, China have become.


On February 8, 2020, The New York Times ran a story that discussed how this new coronavirus might spread, and outlined six different factors that will be important with respect to our ability to prevent a worldwide epidemic. The upshot is that human contact, one on one, can lead to the very rapid dissemination of new pathogens, like this new coronavirus. The process is commonly described by the phrase "going viral," but that phrase is now also used in non-medical contexts, for instance, to talk about how fast a "meme," like one showing our president having a bad hair day, will sweep through the Internet.

I teach a class at the University of California, Santa Cruz called "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom," and we definitely discuss the "going viral" phenomenon in the non-medical context. Class discussion focuses often how social media can make various kinds of information (and misinformation) "go viral," and what the social, economic, and political conseequences of that phenomenon can be. Any reader of this blog who is not familiar with the phenomenon, or with Zeynep Tufekci, might enjoy watching Tufekci's TED Talk called, "How the internet has made social change easy to organize, hard to win."

Tufekci is an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, and is a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University; she is a monthly contributor to The New York Times op-ed page on topics related to technology's social impact. She was present at a number of the demonstrations that initiated the "Arab Spring," in 2011, and she identifies these demonstrations as prime examples of how the Internet has made it possible for political protests to "go viral" very quickly. 

While Tufekci celebrates how the Internet and social media have made it possible quickly to organize demonstrations and protests - by making it easy for news to "go viral" and create almost immediate responses - she also observes that this "going viral" process, when based on the Internet, may not lead to any enduring social, political, or economic change. Listening to her talk about this is very much recommended for anyone who hopes to be part of a movement for social and political change in the United States. In fact, says Tufekci, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, kicking off one of the great battles of the Civil Rights Movement, is a pre-internet model of how more durable and effective protests can lead to change. The Internet, as she puts it, makes it "easy to organize" social protest, but makes it hard actually to accomplish substantive change.

As I have been reading about the coronavirus, and how it is spreading, I have also been remembering Tufekci's admonitions not to rely too heavily on the Internet and social media to make enduring social, political, or economic change. We do need to make it possible for protests and demonstrations to "go viral," but as the person-to-person nature of the current health crisis demonstrates, it is not necessary to rely solely on the Internet and social media to achieve that objective. 

Person-to-person contacts are what causes diseases, like the coronavirus, to "go viral." 

Same thing is true for making political change. Person-to-person contacts are what will do it!


Image Credits:
(1) - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronavirus
(2) - https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2020/02/photos-empty-streets-china-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/606064/


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

#50 / Bear With Me



Here is another recommended article from The Sun magazine. The article I recommended in my blog post yesterday was published in the December 2019 issue. The article I am recommending here is titled, "A Test Of Our Compassion," and was published in the January 2020 issue. This most recent article presents a discussion between Savannah BarnesLouisa Willcox, and David Mattson. Willcox and Mattson live close to Yellowstone National Park, and they have devoted their lives to advocating for grizzly bears. As Willcox and Mattson put it, "grizzly-bear recovery is not a technocratic problem; it is a spiritual and moral one." 

So many of our current problems are!

Here is the statement in the article that spoke most directly to me. It is more than just about grizzlies: 

Do we want a deeper, richer relationship with nature, or do we want to just kill everything and live through our smartphones?

I know which side I'm on.


Image Credit:
https://bear.org/brown-grizzly-bear-facts/


Tuesday, February 18, 2020

#49 / Boundary And Horizon



Let me reference my blog posting on December 24, 2019, which suggested that readers track down an interview with Barry Lopez, published in The Sun magazine. That is still good advice. 

Let me "pile on" just a bit, however, with one more insight from that interview. Lopez commented on his recently released autobiographical reflection, Horizon, and then made this observation: 

Lopez: Many of us feel we’re stuck with a dead-end street because of global climate change. That’s why Roy Scranton was able to write a book with the title Learning to Die in the Anthropocene, because people are now familiar with despair on this scale, believing we’re at some sort of terminal point ... 
Something I learned from scuba diving is that if you’re a terrestrial creature, a landscape changes from side to side as you swivel your head. If you’re diving, that happens, too, but it also changes vertically. You can be looking horizontally when you’re at 150 feet or at 30 feet, but then you add that vertical component. If I can stretch this comparison a bit: When you arrive in a box canyon, what you’re actually looking at is a box without a lid. You can’t get out of there the way a bird can. If you enter a box canyon as a diver, however, you just rise up in the water column and swim on. So part of what I was trying to do in Horizon is to encourage people to imagine the world on axes different from the ones that function like boundaries for us instead of horizons. 
A boundary says, “Here and no further.” A horizon says, “Welcome.” You know you can go on from there.

"Possibility" is my favorite category. I have found it is a "magic key" that helps me to escape from all species of confinement. It is the way to turn boundaries into horizons. 

From a place we may have thought marked the end of the world, becalmed on a dying sea, and lost in a tractless ocean of despair, we find that we have not reached a boundry, after all, but that we have discovered, instead, a place of possibility, a horizon that promises still more for us to see, and do. 

And then....

We sail on from there.


Image Credit:
https://www.opb.org/radio/programs/thinkoutloud/segment/barry-lopez-new-book-lifetime-memoir-horizon/


Monday, February 17, 2020

#48 / Beguiled By Billionaires?



I am a Bernie Sanders' supporter, so I didn't really need the advisory that Ross Douthat provided in his column in yesterday's New York Times. The column was titled (in both the online and hard copy versions) "The Bloomberg Temptation." I am not a regular fan of Douthat's columns, probably mainly because he is a "conservative," or at least that is how Wikipedia labels him. I am sort of on the other side of the political spectrum. 

Nonetheless, and without actually endorsing Douthat's views, since I haven't done enough independent research on Bloomberg to feel qualified to have a fixed and unshakable perspective, I do think it is worth alerting my friends to what I think of as Douthat's cautionary comments on Michael Bloomberg. I know there are a lot of my friends (and not the conservative ones) who are attracted to the idea that Bloomberg might just be just the right candidate to carry the Democratic Party banner in next November's election. These friends are, in other words, as Douthat suggests, "tempted" by Bloomberg. 

The skeptic would say that such a temptation proves the power of modern advertising - and the power that money always has. Maybe I am a skeptic - and I am an unapologetic Bernie Sanders' supporter - so consider this blog post as reflecting both my skepticism and my already decided upon political views. Even when you "consider the source," however, it might be wise to take Douthat's views seriously. I think there is a real chance that we are being beguiled by the billionaires. 

Since The New York Times has a fairly formidable paywall, it is quite possible that the link I have provided above won't get you to the online version of Douthat's column. Thus, what follows is a complete republication of Douthat's latest opinion piece:

The Bloomberg Temptation

Will the Democrats try to replace Donald Trump with a power-hungry plutocrat?

For a long time the notion of a Michael Bloomberg presidential candidacy seemed like a Manhattan fancy, a conceit with elite appeal but no mass constituency, a fantasy for Acela riders who imagine that the American people are clamoring for a rich person’s idea of centrism.

This was especially true in the days when Bloomberg would advertise his interest in a third-party candidacy. Third parties are generally founded on ideas that elites are neglecting, like the combination of economic populism, social conservatism and America-first foreign policy that propelled Donald Trump to power. Whereas Bloombergism is elite thinking perfectly distilled: Social liberalism and technocracy, hawkish internationalism and business-friendly environmentalism, plus a dose of authoritarianism to make the streets safe for gentrification.

But with a populist in the White House, a socialist winning primaries, a Democratic electorate desperate for a winning candidate and an establishment desperate for a champion, Bloomberg has become a somewhat more plausible presidential candidate than I imagined even six months back. So it’s worth pondering exactly what his still-highly-unlikely, but not-entirely-unimaginable nomination might mean, and what he offers as an alternative to both his Democratic rivals and to Donald Trump.

Inside the Democratic Party, Bloomberg’s ascent would put a sharp brake on the two major post-Obama trends in liberalism: The Great Awokening on race and sex and culture, and the turn against technocracy in economic policymaking.

Yes, Bloomberg has adapted his policy views to better fit the current liberal consensus, and his views on social issues were liberal to begin with. But he has the record of a deficit and foreign policy hawk, the soul of a Wall Street centrist, and a history of racial and religious profiling and sexist misbehavior. More than any other contender, his nomination would pull the party back toward where it stood before the rise of Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, and root liberalism once more in professional-class interests and a Washington-Wall Street mindmeld.

These are good reasons to assume that he cannot be the nominee, and excellent reasons for social progressives and socialists alike to want to beat him. The only way they will fail is if Bloomberg succeeds in casting himself as the unusual answer to an unusual incumbent — combining the Democratic fear of a Trump second term, his own reputation for effective management and the promise of spending his fortune to crush Trump into a more compelling electability pitch than the race’s other moderates.

But Democrats considering this sales pitch should be very clear on what a Bloomberg presidency would mean. Bloomberg does not have Trump’s flagrant vices (though some of his alleged behavior with women is pretty bad) or his bald disdain for norms and rules and legal niceties, and so a Bloomberg presidency will feel less institutionally threatening, less constitutionally perilous, than the ongoing wildness of the Trump era — in addition to delivering at least some of the policy changes that liberals and Democrats desire.

However, feelings can be deceiving. Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are naked on his Twitter feed, but Bloomberg’s imperial instincts, his indifference to limits on his power, are a conspicuous feature of his career. Trump jokes about running for a third term; Bloomberg actually managed it, bulldozing through the necessary legal changes. Trump tries to bully the F.B.I. and undermine civil liberties; Bloomberg ran New York as a miniature surveillance state. Trump has cowed the Republican Party with celebrity and bombast; Bloomberg has spent his political career buying organizations and politicians that might otherwise impede him. Trump blusters and bullies the press; Bloomberg literally owns a major media organization. Trump has Putin envy; Bloomberg hearts Xi Jinping.

oooOOOooo

For an even more negative view (from a progressive commentator this time, not a conservative one) you can read this column by Shaun King: "Voting for Mike Bloomberg is the line I just can't cross." And here's a link to today's column by Charles Blow, a New York Time's columnist (and thus probably paywall protected). Blow's column is titled, "Democrats Have Their Own Rogue." It warns us against Bloomberg.

That Bloomberg guy has definitely gotten the attention of his hometown journalists - and the verdict is not comforting!


Image Credit:
https://www.businessinsider.com/who-is-michael-bloomberg-bio-age-family-and-key-positions-2019-11


Sunday, February 16, 2020

#47 / R We Ready To Vote (YES) on Measure R?




A friend who saw my blog posting about the recall elections currently underway in the City of Santa Cruz sent me a follow-up inquiry: What do you think about Measure R? Well, I do have "view" on Measure R, too. I am strongly in favor of Measure R. In fact, being one of those early voter types, I have already cast my ballot, and I voted YES on R.

As far as I am concerned, Cabrillo College is one of the local institutions that has helped make Santa Cruz County into a very special place, indeed. I speak from personal experience. My entire family has benefitted from the education that Cabrillo College provides. Lots of other families can say the exact same thing! Cabrillo is, as the name states, a  true "community" college, and it makes education available to all of us, to every one of us - and at every stage of our lives.

Cabrillo is where I learned Spanish, when I was almost fifty years old, and Cabrillo is where my son took courses he needed to advance his career. My daughter got a very good start in life in Cabrillo's outstanding Early Childhood Education preschool. Her son, my grandson, will soon be in high school, and he is already planning to take some courses at Cabrillo, to get him beyond high school, and ready for a four-year university. I am now teaching in the Legal Studies Program at UCSC, and I am very much impressed by the diverse and motivated students that Cabrillo College is sending up to that City on a Hill!

Here is the problem that some find with Measure R: it will cost us money! If you think you can get everything for free on the Internet (even a bogus education at PragerU), maybe the fact that it will cost us money will seem like a real strike against Measure R. The amount of money being requested will mean less than 2% of the average total of our property tax bills, but Measure R will cost us money. This is not a deal killer for me!

I come from parents who taught me that "you get what you pay for," and that has, in fact, been my personal experience. If we want to continue and build upon the wonderful work that Cabrillo College has done, and is doing in this community, we need to continue to invest. In the case of Measure R, I think we get a lot for our investment. The fact sheets I have seen indicate that the funds produced by Measure R will not only rennovate and upgrade many aging campus facilities, specifically including the Library, but that these funds will also let Cabrillo build a new science building on the main campus and a new public service training center in Watsonville.

Deciding to borrow money (and that's what a bond act is) always requires some thought. If you borrow money and don't invest it wisely, you are worse off than before. You don't have much of value to show for your money, and you're deeper in debt. I think that investing in our premier institution of community education is an investment worth making, and that is why I voted "YES" on Measure R.

YES on "R." That's my view about that one!




Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.santacruzsentinel.com/2018/09/20/cabrillo-college-eyes-another-try-at-bond-as-deficits-loom-facilities-crumble/
(2) - https://localwiki.org/santacruz/Cabrillo_Community_College
(3) - https://twitter.com/cabrillo_yesonr


Saturday, February 15, 2020

#46 / Zero Waste



As you can see from the illustration, the James Beard Foundation has published a whole book on "how to get the most from your food." The title of the book is Waste Not

Beard, who died in 1985, was "an American cook, cookbook author, teacher and television personality." The James Beard Foundation was created "to celebrate, nurture, and honor chefs and other leaders making America's food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable for everyone."

I did not begin this blog posting with the idea that I would be highlighting James Beard and the James Beard Foundation. My plan was simply to address an old adage, "Waste Not, Want Not." This saying is sometimes attributed to Ben Franklin, but is apparently of a more ancient origin.

An article in The New York Times, published on January 2, 2020, stimulated me to want to make a comment on the phrase "Waste Not, Want Not." The article, interestingly enough, also focused on food and food preparation. It was titled, "A Restaurant With No Leftovers." As I looked for an image to go along with my "Zero Waste" title, it seemed particularly appropriate to commandeer a picture of the book shown above.

What I really want to suggest is that the inspiring "zero-waste" policy of the Rhodora restaurant, featured in The Times article, is exactly the goal that we should each be striving for, individually, and that we should be pursuing, collectively. In my opinion, this is a social, political, and economic objective that should be right up there with "Medicare for All." 

Perhaps my recent experience with Christmas has made me sensitive to this topic. 


It would be hard to think of a more wasteful day of celebration. That's my feeling, anyway, and I believe that others would agree, and that the words of John Lennon articulate a common perception. Surely, "I am not the only one" who thinks that we need to stop wasting the world's resources in such a profligate way. Christmas gifts, and gift wrappings, and restaurant food waste are handy examples of the problem, and they are easy to reference. The issue, though, is a general one. We need to achieve "zero-waste" everywhere, which means (first thing) that we have to devote a lot more attention to the first of those "three Rs." They are, if you haven't heard the news: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

In that order. That means a lot less consumption!

A book review in The Wall Street Journal, also published on January 2, 2020, cites a book by Kyle Chayka that advances the proposition that Americans are "longing for less." Would that we would all start doing that! 

Our civilized life ultimately depends upon the Natural World, which does have limits. This means that we need to start making "Waste Not, Want Not" a high-priority objective for ourselves, and for our society. I really do think that what the Rhodora restaurant is doing is truly "inspiring." Presuming that The Times is telling us the truth (and I think it is), this restaurant in Brooklyn doesn't even have a trash container. It's truly "zero-waste." That is an article worth reading, if you can slip past The Times paywall. 

And if you want to start supporting an organization that is promoting the "zero-waste" idea in California, connect up with Californians Against Waste. I used to be on the Board of Directors. Zero waste is the goal. We are long way from that, and we need to do better!

If Rhodora can do it, we all can!


Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.amazon.com/Waste-Not-Most-Your-Food/dp/084786278X
(2) - Gary Pattonn personal photo


Friday, February 14, 2020

#45 / Where We Can Plant The Trees



Rebecca Moore, pictured above, is a computer scientist who lives in the Santa Cruz mountains. Audubon calls her a "trailblazer." Moore is one of eight people whom Audubon says are "changing the climate conversation." The stories of these eight trailblazers appear in Audubon's Fall 2019 special "climate" issue, which suggests that we really can make the changes we need to make to prevent the "worst case" global warming scenario from becoming a reality. You can read about Rebecca and other Audubon trailblazers by clicking on this link. The Audubon article has embedded video, besides the pictures and the words. 

Among the words found in the part of the article focusing on Moore are these: 

I’m a reluctant activist—it’s not natural for me—but I love nature and my community. In 2005 I got a public notice of intent to harvest timber near my home. Buried in it were details that would allow cutting more than 60 percent of the largest stand of old-growth redwoods in the county. I thought, “How can I, a computer scientist, help people understand what’s at stake?” 
A community group and I digitally mapped the forest and established that the plan didn’t qualify for the permit. Seeing the power of satellite imagery was eye-opening. Often environmental debates involve opposing parties throwing facts and figures back and forth. When you show people the real world, they grasp complex issues in seconds. 
Google hired me because I had a vision that Google Earth could democratize information access—that anyone could annotate the planet to create impact ...  
One way to help keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius is to add a billion hectares of forest to the planet. A recent paper using Google Earth Engine shows where we can plant those trees.

Knowing where we can plant those trees is great. But now we have actually to plant them!


Image Credit:
https://www.audubon.org/magazine/fall-2019/meet-8-trailblazers-who-are-changing-climate


Thursday, February 13, 2020

#44 / Messed Up By Media



A friend of mine sent me a chart that purports to provide guidance on media bias in online media. Objective guidance! The idea is that it is actually possible to penetrate through media bias, and to reach some sort of objective and unbiased understanding of the news. That is certainly an intriguing idea. We are ever more aware that the president isn't completely wrong when he talks about "fake news." Some call it "junk news." There is a lot of that going around, and much of the information we get, and that we use to make all sorts of important decisions, reflects the source of the news, more than the reality of what is being reported. 

The organization that has produced the chart above (which is updated frequently) is called Ad Fontes Media. The woman who started the organization is named Vanessa Otero. Otero is "a practicing patent attorney in the Denver, Colorado area. She has a B.A. in English from UCLA and a J.D. from the University of Denver. She is the original creator of the Media Bias Chart, and founded Ad Fontes Media in February of 2018 to fulfill the need revealed by the popularity of the chart–namely, the need for a map to help people navigate the complex media landscape, and for comprehensive content analysis of media sources themselves." 

That biographical information about Otero comes from the Ad Fontes' website. That website also informs us that the "Ad Fontes" name is not intended to reference "advertising." According to the Ad Fontes' website, "'Ad Fontes' is Latin for 'to the source,' because at the heart of what Ad Fontes Media does is look at the source—analyze the very content itself—to rank it. We are not measuring consumer opinions, clicks and views, or 'user engagement.' Plenty of other companies do that in order to sell ads, and we think that is part of the problem we face in the current media landscape."

In the video below, Otero explains her chart, and how it can be used. Bottom line, if you trust her ranking methodologies, you can trust news from the sources near the top and near the center of her always updated chart. These are the news sources that Ad Fontes believes to be relatively unbiased, reliable, and accurate.




Making use of the chart does require some work, of course, but for those who post news items to social media accounts, it probably is a good idea to check out the possible bias of your source of news, when you are thinking about passing a news item along to others. 

Ad Fontes is not your only option, either. Click this link, for instance, to find out about "NewsGuard," an online service which promises to provide users with "detailed ratings of more than 4,000 news websites that account for 95% of online engagement with news, [with] ratings displayed as icons next to links on all the major search engines, social media sites, and platforms."

It may be that we should think about using the Ad Fontes chart, or NewsGuard, or similar services, in the same way that prudent persons wear "protection" before engaging in sex with unfamiliar partners. 

Safe news. Safe sex. Two good ideas!


Image Credit:
https://www.adfontesmedia.com/product/media-bias-chart-5-0-downloadable-image-and-standard-license/


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

#43 / Some?



The headline on a Wall Street Journal article published on January 8, 2020, read as follows: 

Facebook Bans Some Fake Videos

That headline prompted me to ask myself, "why just some?" The online version of the article, which I have linked right here, had a different headline, "Facebook Bans Deepfakes but Permits Some Altered Content." That newspapers offer different headlines for the online version of their newspaper stories is pretty common. The actual articles are, almost always, the same. Thus, by the time I saw the online version of the article that caught my attention, I already knew the answer to my inquiry, "Why just some?" Here is how The Wall Street Journal reported the story, both online and in the hard copy edition of the paper:

Facebook is banning videos that have been manipulated using advanced tools, though it won’t remove most doctored content, as the social-media giant tries to combat disinformation without stifling speech.

"Some" fake videos, in other words, will be published so as not to "stifle" speech. Writing in The New York Times, under the headline, "Why Politicians Get a License to Lie," opinion writer Charlie Warzel explained what has happened this way: 

On Monday, Facebook announced a new policy to ban artificial intelligence-generated “deepfakes” as well as videos “edited or synthesized … in ways that aren’t apparent to an average person.” In theory that sounds like a welcome effort to curb disinformation. 
But the new policy won’t, for example, cover subtly edited videos like last year’s slowed down viral Nancy Pelosi clip. And politicians and their ads remain off limits to Facebook’s third-party fact checkers. A company spokesman told me Tuesday that if Facebook determines a politician has shared manipulated media in an ad, Facebook will remove it. But, as far as I can tell, bogus content — even outright lies — is still allowed, as long as it isn’t manipulated by artificial intelligence. 
And the company left a big loophole: Facebook will not censor political speech if it is in the public interest to see it. “If a politician posts organic content that violates our manipulated media policy, we would evaluate it by weighing the public interest value against the risk of harm. Our newsworthy policy applies to all content on Facebook, not just content posted by politicians,” the spokesman wrote in an email.

There are, I think, credible arguments on each side of the question whether Facebook (and other Internet platforms) should uniformly prevent the posting and dissemination of ALL fake content, or just SOME fake content. 

My reaction to the issue is that WE, collectively, need to decide the rules that govern the world we inhabit. That includes the world of the Internet, which is more and more the "real" way we interact and communicate. 

Facebook, in other words, should not be making decisions about what sort of information is being disseminated to the public. The public should be making those decisions. We do have a way to do that, should we care to employ it. It is called representative democracy. Congress and our elected representatives should be having the debate that has apparently occurred internally, within the Facebook bureaucracy, and Congress should be making the rules, not Mark Zuckerberg and the corporate bureaucrats working for Facebook!


Image Credit:
https://www.timeforkids.com/g56/fakeout-2/


Tuesday, February 11, 2020

#42 / Aging, Comfortable, Stuck?



Ross Douthat, pictured above, is a New York Times columnist. Apparently, he will soon have a book out. The release date is February 25, 2020. Douthat's book is called The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success

The Times is helping Douthat to promote book sales. In its edition on Sunday, February 9, 2020, the newspaper ran a very generous two-page inside spread on the argument that Douthat is advancing. The Times article was titled, "The Age of Decadence." 


Like all such analyses, Douthat writes as an "observer," and this is his basic observation:

We probably aren’t entering a 1930-style crisis for Western liberalism or hurtling forward toward transhumanism or extinction. Instead, we are aging, comfortable and stuck, cut off from the past and no longer optimistic about the future, spurning both memory and ambition while we await some saving innovation or revelation, growing old unhappily together in the light of tiny screens.

Our situation is, in other words, best pictured by the illustration above, which is found in the hard copy version and online. 

Is Douthat right? Well, that may depend on who you are. "Comfortable" doesn't ring true for huge segments of the population, as far as I am concerned, and as for "stuck," I think that "untethered" might be a more apt description. 

I hate to keep quoting Karl Marx, but only because I know I am being repetitious, not from any reluctance to credit a verifiable "communist" with a positive reference. As I have said before, "observers," including Douthat, can have some important and impressive insights, and what they write is often worth reading. Nonetheless, to use that quote from Marx again:

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.

I don't actually think we are "stuck," and I don't think we are feeling "comfortable," either. I am not, at least, and I don't know too many who are.

"Aging?" Ok. Yes, I'll cop to that!


Image Credits:
(1) - https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/go-your-womb-ross-douthat/
(2) - https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/07/opinion/sunday/western-society-decadence.html


Monday, February 10, 2020

#41 / Getting Your Degree From PragerU



Until I read a New York Times' story about it, I had never heard of Prager University, which is also called "PragerU." Please be advised, at the outset, that "Prager University" is not, actually, the kind of institution of higher learning that typically bears that "University" title. It is, instead, an online purveyor of "educational" videos.

PragerU was founded by someone named Dennis Prager, a right-wing radio commentator. Funding has come, in large part, from a couple of brothers who made their fortune in the fracking boom. Those who operate "PragerU" are trying, I find, to keep their video presentations to about a five-minute run time. The Times' article puts it this way, in its online headline:

Right-Wing Views for Generation Z, Five Minutes at a Time

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, describes PragerU as follows:

PragerU, short for Prager University, is an American non-profit organization that creates videos on various political, economic and philosophical topics from an American conservative or right-wing perspective. The organization was co-founded by talk show host and writer Dennis Prager. The videos are posted on YouTube and usually feature a speaker who lectures for about five minutes. The organization relies on donations, and much of its early funding came from fracking billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks.
PragerU is not a university or academic institution. It does not hold classes, does not grant certifications or diplomas, and is not accredited by any recognized body.

If you click on one of those links, furnished above, that should allow you to read The Times' article, you may run into the newspaper's paywall. Since I think it is important that people understand what PragerU is all about, you can click right here, if you'd like, for a PDF version of the article, to get you by that paywall problem.

Below, I am reprinting an excerpt from The Times' article, as reporter Nellie Bowles commented on the experience of Will Witt, who is shown interviewing students at the University of California, Berkeley. Witt has gone from being a "student" to someone directly involved in helping to prepare new video lessons for the PragerU curriculum. This is from the article:


The goal of the people behind all of this — Dennis Prager, the conservative talk show host and impresario of this digital empire, and the venture’s billionaire funders — seems simple: more Will Witts in the world. More pride in American history (and less panic over racism), more religion (specifically in the “Judeo-Christian” tradition), less illegal immigration, more young people laughing at people on the left rather than joining them.  
Mr. Witt, 23, said he was raised in a relatively liberal home by his mother, and when he arrived at the University of Colorado in Boulder, he was already leaning conservative. But he found his zeal for the culture war on campus. One of his classes offered students extra credit for going to a political protest. Mr. Witt submitted that he would go to a nearby speech hosted by the right-wing star Milo Yiannopoulos. The teaching assistant told him that would not count, he said.  
He was frustrated, feeling lonely and at home watching videos on YouTube. The site prompted him with a bright animation made by PragerU. He can’t remember the first video he saw. Maybe railing against feminism, he said.
“I must have watched every single one that night,” Mr. Witt said. “I stopped going to class. Pretty much all the time I was reading and watching.” 
He did not graduate from college. 
The videos are five minutes each, quick, full of graphs and grand extrapolations, and unapologetically conservative. Lessons have titles like: “Why Socialism Never Works” (a series), “Fossil Fuels: The Greenest Energy,” “Where Are the Moderate Muslims?” and “Are Some Cultures Better Than Others?” 
To the founders and funders of PragerU, YouTube is a way to circumvent brick-and-mortar classrooms — and parents — and appeal to Generation Z, those born in the mid-1990s and early 2000s.

It is heartbreaking to realize that video "lessons" offered by PragerU caused Will Witt to quit college. Genuine education comes from debate and discussion between real people, inhabitating the same space at the same time, trying to make sense of the world. 

The addictive power of modern media is well-known. We need, as parents and citizens, to try to vaccinate ourselves, and our children, from what amounts to a deadly plague of propaganda, pretending to be "education." 


Image Credits:
(1) - https://legalinsurrection.com/2017/10/youtube-restricted-mike-rowes-prager-u-video-dont-follow-your-passion/
(2) - https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/04/us/politics/dennis-prager-university.html


Sunday, February 9, 2020

#40 / A Good Book



My purpose, here, is to recommend a Good Book. Not "the" Good Book (the Bible), though there are a few similarities. There are also a lot of differences. For one thing, the practice of astrology figures prominently in the book I am recommending. In the Bible, not so much!

This book is particularly recommended if you like William Blake, love animals (deer and dogs are both featured), and if you disparage and dislike hunting.

The author of the book I am recommending is Olga Tokarczuk, who is pictured above. She won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018, and the book I just read won the Man Booker International Prize in 2019. Stand by! Here's the title:




Bob Dylan, another Nobel Laureate, has a comparable piece of advice: "Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you."

A friend gave me a copy of Tokarczuk's book for my birthday. I am intending to gift you with my recommendation. On Page 218, I read the sentences that convinced me that I should pass my recommendation on to others. Here it is:

Life is like an extremely demanding testing ground. From now on everything you do will count; every thought and every deed, but not for you to be punished or rewarded afterward, but because it is they that build your world. 

We are done with January. That's the month we think about new things. As Hannah Arendt would almost certainly counsel, it is quite possible to do new things, and to surprise ourselves, and to surprise everyone else, too. I suggest that we surprise everyone this year and build a brand new, better world!

Every thought, and every deed, and everything we do will count!


Image Credit:
https://www.pri.org/stories/2019-10-10/olga-tokarczuk-destined-win-nobel-prize-says-jennifer-croft-her-translator