Monday, January 20, 2020

#20 / When... (In One Sentence)

Sheila Wise Rowe has written a book called Healing Racial Trauma. I found out about the book from an advertisement in the February 2020 issue of Sojourners Magazine. The advertisement had a headline that said, "Racial Trauma Is Real."

When I read that, I thought to myself, "What?" How could that headline on the advertisement be necessary? Is there really anyone who doesn't understand the reality of racial trauma, and that it continues to exist?

Of course, I know that there are people who have not, yet, really "gotten it." Still, we all ought to have "gotten it" by now, and if we haven't, it is time to read, or reread, one of the most powerful single sentences ever written in the English language.

This sentence (and it is a long one) is found in Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham jail. The Letter was later included in Dr. King's book, Why We Can't Wait:

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." 
But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
If you are a writer, note the use of the semicolon. That sentence, starting with "But," is all one sentence. If you need reminding that "Racial Trauma Is Real," think about each one of those examples, and others that might be added to those mentioned in King's list. Long as it is, that list could have been longer. Oh, yes: "Racial Trauma Is Real."

There was an article in that issue of Sojourners that is particularly appropriate today, on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. Here is a link: "'UNTIL WE ARE ALL FREE': LEARNING FROM TUBMAN, KING, AND STEVENSON."

We still can't wait! We must not wait. "Racial Trauma Is Real," and it is, as always, time to act. Today, on this holiday, it is a good time to think about that!

It's Now Or Never, More Than Ever.

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Sunday, January 19, 2020

#19 / One Telling Phrase

New information has been made available, bearing on the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. As reported by both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, the Government Accountability Office (the GAO) has issued a report finding that it was "illegal" for the president to hold up funding to the Ukraine, in opposition to and contrary to the duly enacted directions of the Congress.

The GAO is "an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. Often called the 'congressional watchdog,' [the] GAO examines how taxpayer dollars are spent and provides Congress and federal agencies with objective, reliable information to help the government save money and work more efficiently." In addition, "GAO’s Office of the General Counsel regularly issues legal decisions and opinions regarding ... appropriations law, and other legal matters."

On Friday morning, as I read what the newspapers had to say about the GAO's recent findings, one quote from The Times' article stood out: 

The White House budget office promptly rejected the report’s conclusions, saying it had remained within the law. “We disagree with G.A.O.’s opinion,” said Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the budget office. "O.M.B. uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the president’s priorities and with the law (emphasis added)."

The United States Constitution specifies in Article II that the main duty of the president is to "take care that the laws shall be faithfully executed." The "president's priorities," in other words, which may be quite different from what Congress provides, do not appear to constitute any legal basis for the president to disregard, delay, or deny a legally enacted direction by the Congress. 

With the single, telling phrase highlighted above, we learn that the Trump White House contends that the president is actually "above the law," in that the "president's priorities" permit him to disregard the laws enacted by the Congress.  

Is it, in fact, permisible for the president to substitute his own "personal priorities" for an explicit direction from the Congress? The future of our Constitutional system of government will depend, very significantly, on the answer that the United States Senate gives to that question. 

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Saturday, January 18, 2020

#18 / Essential

Literally the day after I had written that blog post from yesterday, I read a pretty long interview that Bob Dylan gave to John Cohen and Happy Traum, published in Sing Out magazine, whose final publication was in 2014. That Sing Out interview with Dylan was from October/November 1968, and I found it not by looking through the magazine's archives, but in a book called Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews.

My blog posting yesterday (to save you the time and trouble of having to track that down) gave my opinion that it is up to us to change our politics ourselves, and that we need to stop waiting around for someone, some hero, some Master Politician, to do it for us. Hey, we tried that with Obama, right? Didn't really work. Not working with Trump, either! Even worse!

What caught my attention in the Sing Out interview was a portion of the interview in which Cohen and Traum were attempting to get Dylan to comment on his role as a leader of political and social movements for change. Looking back on a history of interviews with Dylan, a lot of interviewers seemed to want to do that, and to get Dylan to commit to the idea that he should be playing such a leadership role, or to admit that he had done so, once, and then abandonned the effort. Dylan always dodged. He refused, always, to be put in that position. Dylan did that here, too, but pay attention to the way that the inquiry was presented:

HT: Well, the kids at Columbia University are taking a particular stand on what they see as the existing evils. They're trying to get their own say in the world, and in a way trying to overcome the people ruling them, and there are powerful people who are ruling them, and there are powerful people who are running the show. They can be called the establishment, and they are the same people who make the wars, that build the missiles, that manufacture the instruments of death.

Happy Traum was clearly making reference to one of Dylan's greatest songs (one that Dylan asked Patti Smith to sing at the Nobel Prize ceremony), "Masters of War." I think Traum was hoping, by this tactic, to get Dylan to admit that he should be leading the Columbia student protests, or should be speaking out in their support. 

Like I say, Dylan dodged, but what struck me was how Happy Traum - like so many, then and now - saw the politics of our world as defined between the "rulers" and the "ruled." Such a vision pretty much figures that those with lots of money and high social and economic position are the "rulers." They are looking for somebody (could it be Bob Dylan?) to come lead the effort to change that situation. 

Dylan dodges because that isn't how our situation gets changed!

We should stop waiting and hoping for some Master Politician (Dylan or any other leader) to come solve our problems. 

We are the rulers. Let's not forget it.

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Friday, January 17, 2020

#17 / Cause Or Effect?

One of the biggest divides in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination is whether Donald Trump is a cause or a symptom of the current dysfunction in American politics. Joe Biden has argued the former — replace Trump and everything will go back to normal — while the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have based their campaigns on the need for “big, structural change.”

I am quoting from a book review written by Ari Berman. Berman's review appeared in The New York Times Book Review on Sunday, December 22, 2019. It is titled, in the hard copy version, "How to Mend Our Broken Politics." Berman reviews the following two books: They Don't Represent Us: Reclaiming Our Democracy, by Lawrence Lessig, and The Great Democracy: How to Fix Our Politics, Unrig the Economy, and Unite America, by Ganesh Sitaraman.

So, what is the right answer? Is Trump the "cause," or is his presidency an "effect" of what is wrong with politics in the United States of America? I tend to think that the Trump presidency is much more "effect" than "cause," but the right answer is probably "both." At any rate, what I noticed as I read Berman's review was the way he describes the central thesis of the Lessig book. Lessig is definitely in the "effect" camp. Here is how Berman synopsizes what Lessig has to say:

“The crisis in America is not its president,” Lessig writes in his opening pages. “Its president is the consequence of a crisis much more fundamental.” That crisis is the state of democracy itself. 
You could fill an entire bookshelf with works about the crisis of democracy in the Trump era, but Lessig, a professor at Harvard Law School, has been eloquently hammering this point longer than most. He isolates the problem with American democracy to one word: “unrepresentativeness.” Voter suppression undermines free and fair elections, gerrymandering allows politicians to pick their preferred electorate, the Senate and the Electoral College favor small states and swing states over the rest of the country and the post-Citizens United campaign-finance system gives a tiny handful of billionaires far more clout than the average small donor. “In every dimension, the core principle of a representative democracy has been compromised,” he writes (emphasis added).

I haven't read either of the books reviewed by Berman, but I am prepared to agree with Lessig, based on the above description of his views. However, in thinking about how the compromise of our representative democracy has occurred, I want to suggest that "the fault," as Cassius says to Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, is " ourselves." 

In a representative democracy, elected officials are supposed to represent the people who elect them, but it is the responsibility of the people to insist that they in fact do that. "We, the people," in other words, are the source of the power wielded by our representatives, but we often act more like petitioners and protesters than like those who are actually in charge. Various structural reforms can help, but what is mainly necessary is that we decide that we are, and should be, "in charge" of our government. To make any such decision "real," and not just "theoretical," we must then spend the time and effort necessary to make sure that the people we elect do what we want. 

When the people act like "pussies," it's no wonder that our so-called "representatives" start representing themselves, not us! Trump's ascendency comes right out of a deep-seated frustration that the government is beyond our control, when we know it should be doing what we want. Trump is an "effect." 

President Trump is not, of course, the solution to the problem of our failing democratic institutions, and no other candidate will be, either. What might work is the so-called "political revolution" that Bernie Sanders talks about. Such a "revolution" would require that we, the people, reassert and effectuate, as a reality, our own primacy on the terrain of politics. 


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Thursday, January 16, 2020

#16 / The Laws Of Physics Are Inevitable

The illustration above is from an article published in the online magazine, Quanta. The article is titled, "Why the Laws of Physics Are Inevitable." 

In explaining the illustration, the author says that "these three objects illustrate the principles behind 'spin,' a property of fundamental particles. A domino needs a full turn to get back to the same place. A two of clubs needs only a half turn. And the hour hand on a clock must spin around twice before it tells the same time again." 

OK, I get that, though the whole concept of "spin," when it comes to elementary particles, is beyond my understanding. 

I also do not understand the "bootstrap," featured prominently in the article. The "bootstrap" is a concept apparently relied upon by Daniel Baumann, a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam, who has "used this technique to infer what the laws of nature must be." 

"By considering simple symmetries," the article tells us, "physicists working on the “bootstrap” have rederived the four known forces. 'There’s just no freedom in the laws of physics' (emphasis added)."

I commend this article to those who can understand it. My attention was captured by the title of the article, and by that final quoted statement: "There's just no freedom in the laws of physics." 

The fact that the laws that govern the physical universe are fundamentally different from our human laws was an insight that came to me some time ago. It led me to what I have called my "Two Worlds Hypothesis," the name of which is intended to sound "scientific." 

In short, it is obvious to me that we do actually live in "Two Worlds," simultaneously. Ultimately, we live in the World of Nature, the world that is governed by those "natural laws," those "laws of physics" that permit exactly NO freedom. Most immediately, however, we live in a world that we construct ourselves. This world is a "human" world, and the "law" in our human world is nothing but freedom. NOTHING IS INEVITABLE in the world that we create. Every human dream, and every human nightmare, is a possibility.

The current title of my blog (once called "Two Worlds") is intended to point out that the nature of the world that we most immediately inhabit is completely "political," and that it is in our political existence that we exercise what we call human freedom.

While we are ultimately the inhabitants of a world governed by the laws of physics, the World of Nature, where those "natural laws" permit "no freedom" whatsoever, the world in which we most immediately live is a "political world," a world that we construct ourselves.

Our world works on the following formula: 

Politics > Law > Government

This formula is meant to say that our human (and political) world is governed by laws that we write for ourselves. Our laws are unlike the laws of physics, which are descriptive, telling us what is "inevitable." Human laws are prescriptive, and tell us what we have decided we want to do. In our world, "freedom" is the essence of the law. In physics: the opposite. 

One of our greatest problems, as humans, is that we keep getting confused about "the law." We act like we can ignore the laws of physics that govern the World of Nature, upon which we ultimately depend. Thus, as an important example, we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as though we can ignore the consequences of what the laws of physics ordain. On the other hand, considering the world we most immediately inhabit, the world in which WE MAKE THE LAW, we act as though changing the existing order is impossible. You can translate this, in our contemporary politics, into a statement like, "Bernie Sanders can never be elected." Or, "even if Bernie Sanders were elected, he could never change the laws that have created the income inequality that is hollowing out our political, social, and economic life."

I think the "Two Worlds Hypothesis" is helpful. And correct. To change the world - the current shape of which is NOT "inevitable" - all we need to do is to exercise the freedom that we have to make the laws, and not get confused by any claim that we are like atoms spinning in space, where the laws allow exactly NO FREEDOM whatsoever.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

#15 / Who Knew That?

I am willing to take knowledge where I find it. I recommend the principle!

What about finding knowledge inside a Snapple Ice Tea bottle cap? Well, I picked one up a while back, and it told me this: 

That Snapple advisory was definitely news to me. Before picking up that bottle cap, I knew the word "jiffy" only as a synonym for "a very short period of time." That's what that oft-consulted Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says about the word "jiffy." Other online dictionaries produce similar definitions. For instance, Google's built-in dictionary gives you this: "jiffy" is "a moment." combines those two definitions to provide: "a very short time; moment." 

After consulting various online (and offline) dictionaries, I was coming to the conclusion that the information provided by the Snapple bottle cap was bogus. However, it turned out that further online research backed up Snapple's claim. Using one of those "ask a question" websites (funtrivia), I learned this:

Is a jiffy a 1/100th second?
The term "jiffy" is sometimes used in computer animation as a method of defining playback rate, with the delay interval between individual frames specified in 1/100th-of-a-second (10 ms) jiffies. 
This is a response last updated by Terry on Sep 23 2016.Apr 18, 2002 to the following question: "Is a jiffy an actual unit of time? As in "be there in a jiffy ..."
Wikipedia gives a definition of "jiffy" that does the funtrivia website one better, providing this information: 

Jiffy is an informal term for any unspecified short period, as in "I will be back in a jiffy." From this it has acquired a number of more precise applications for short, very short, extremely short, ultra short or hyper short periods of time. 
The earliest technical usage for jiffy was defined by Gilbert Newton Lewis (1875–1946). He proposed a unit of time called the "jiffy" which was equal to the time it takes light to travel one centimeter in a vacuum (approximately 33.3564 picoseconds). It has since been redefined for different measurements depending on the field of study ... 
The term "jiffy" is sometimes used in computer animation as a method of defining playback rate, with the delay interval between individual frames specified in 1/100th-of-a-second (10 ms) jiffies, particularly in Autodesk Animator .FLI sequences (one global frame frequency setting) and animated Compuserve .GIF images (each frame having an individually defined display time measured in 1/100 s).

Since I am neither a physicist nor a computer animator, I will be sticking with "jiffy" as a "very short period of time." However, it's nice to know that this general statement has now precipitated into some very specific measuring tools, when needed for "more precise applications."

Like I said, I am willing to take knowledge where I find it. Even inside a bottle cap!

Click this link for more "fun facts" from Snapple

Image Credits:
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(2) - Gary Patton personal photograph

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

#14 / Good Advice From A Review Worth Reading

Back in October of last year, I attended a Bob Dylan concert in Frost Ampitheatre, at Stanford University. I traveled to the concert with my son, and with Santa Cruz County Supervisor John Leopold. John recently alerted me to the fact that Dylan gave a similar concert in Brooklyn in November, and provided a link to a review of that concert, published in The Brooklyn Rail. The review was titled "Bob Dylan in the Bardo." 

The "Bardo," for those not familiar with the term, is defined as "an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth." I thought that The Brooklyn Rail review, by Raymond Foye, was terrific, and that it is well worth reading. Foye's review of the show in Brooklyn captured what I experienced at Frost Ampitheatre, too: 

Going to see Dylan has always been like consulting the oracle. The set lists always seemed designed to tell you something about where you are in your life at the moment. It's wise counsel, inspired. The rest is up to you.

In his review, Foye said that "the shows have gotten much more tenuous and ethereal," and that:

For the first time I realized that this is a very old person on stage. Bob's youthfulness and vitality have always covered that up, but no longer. There are moments when he is center stage in the lights where you see a shaky and fragile side one never saw before. For the first time I got the sense that this isn't going to go on forever.

To become ever more aware of our own shaky, fragile, and transitory experience of life - for so it is, has been, and always will be - is to arrive at an insight of great value. All of us, always, are "in the Bardo," and Dylan has always been one to remind us of that fact, and of our existential situation. We might try to forget it, but that's where we are.  

Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post about a favorite Dylan song, "Under Your Spell." Here's how the Bardo is described in that song, in which Dylan properly orients us to the geography of the place in which we find ourselves:

I’d like to help you but I’m in a bit of a jam
I’ll call you tomorrow if there’s phones where I am
Baby, caught between heaven and hell

The final verse of that song, my favorite, is the killer verse for me:

Well the desert is hot, the mountain is cursed
Pray that I don’t die of thirst
Baby, two feet from the well

There you have it. We find ourselves, inevitably, right in the middle, in "the Bardo," "caught between heaven and hell." 

We need to make our choices and do our deeds with this always in mind. Foye notes, in his review, that Dylan has informed us, in another one of my favorite songs, exactly what this means for the actions we take in life. 

Here's good advice from a review worth reading:
It's now or never, more than ever. 

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Monday, January 13, 2020

#13 / Mother Nature And The Chlorophyll Cure

I took basic chemistry when I was in high school, and although that was a long time ago, I remember the Periodic Table, and I know that C = Carbon and O = Oxygen, and that CO2, or Carbon Dioxide, is comprised of one Carbon atom and two Oxygen atoms, and that CO2 is the greenhouse gas, produced by the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels, that is putting life on Earth in peril, as we continue to emit huge amounts of this gas into our atmosphere. 

I also remember the basics of photosynthesis: “During oxygenic photosynthesis, light energy transfers electrons from water (H2O) to carbon dioxide (CO2), to produce carbohydrates. In this transfer, the CO2 is ‘reduced,’ or receives electrons, and the water becomes ‘oxidized,’ or loses electrons. Ultimately, oxygen is produced along with carbohydrates.” 

Plants with green leaves (colored by chlorophyll) carry out this process, which is essential to life on this planet. Chlorophyll is “a green pigment, present in all green plants and in cyanobacteria, responsible for the absorption of light to provide energy for photosynthesis. Its molecule contains a magnesium atom held in a porphyrin ring.”

I do not believe that it is appropriate for human beings to continue to burn hydrocarbon fuels, thus speeding the global warming that will, unless we change our behavior, put all life on Earth in danger, and that will almost certainly undermine any possibility that our human civilization will endure. 

So, what to do about this major challenge to humanity. First, as quickly as we can, we need to stop burning hydrocarbon fuels. That’s clear. Second, and I think that this is also clear, we need to mobilize Nature to assist us as we change our behavior. Trees help! So, we need to stop cutting them down. We also need to plant more. You could call this the “Chlorophyll Cure.” We need to plant billions of trees, and other plants, whose entire purpose in life is to eliminate CO2, and to produce carbohydrates and oxygen

You know, we could do this. But if we planted billions of trees, and other photosynthetic plants, we would have to take care of them. 

And that seems fair. If we will take care of Nature, Nature will take care of us.

We didn’t come up with that “Mother Nature” idea without good reason!

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

#12 / Some Good News - Bad News

On Page A25 of the hard copy version of the December 12, 2019 New York Times, I found the following headline:

The article in The Times reported on the efforts of Ignite, an advocacy group that encourages young women to get involved in politics. Click the "Ignite" link to learn all about it. Click the link on the headline to read The Times' article (The Times' paywall permitting).

Getting more young people involved in politics, and young women particularly, is nothing but "good news." At least, that's the way I see it. I was, however, somewhat taken aback by what came through very powerfully in the article in The Times. The young women quoted all seem to think that getting involved in politics, and "getting elected president," is something that is accomplished as a result of individual effort and dedication. There are a lot of "I am going to be president" statements, phrased in the first person, as the young women interviewed tell what they, individually, are planning to do. Their statements came across, at least to me, as a reflection of an erroneous idea of what politics is actually supposed to be all about.

To my mind, the identification of political participation and involvement with individual and personal career advancement could actually be a little bit of "bad news." Our politics is healthiest when it is accomplished through a collective effort, and not when political campaigns and political accomplishments originate from individual efforts for personal advancement. 

What Hannah Arendt calls the "lost treasure" of the American Revolution is the discovery that we, acting together, can create a whole new political world. If you click the link and read Chapter Six of her wonderful book, On Revolution, you will see what Arendt is talking about.

What Arendt is talking about is practically the diametric opposite of looking at politics as a way to achieve some kind of personal career advancement. Think about how our current president conducts himself; he is the model for that kind of politics, and that kind of politics is just "bad news." 

I am hoping that the efforts of Ignite will, in the end, help bring new energy into our local, state, and national politics. But the kind of politics we need is the opposite of individualism. Politics is a team sport!

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

#11 / It's All About The ME!

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a military alliance, comprised of twenty-nine North American and European countries. NATO was formed on the basis of the North Atlantic Treaty, a treaty entered into in 1948, shortly after the end of World War II. 

Quoting from Wikipedia, the basic idea is that NATO's independent member states "agree to mutual defense in response to an attack by any external party." If we think back to the origins of World War II, and to the ramping up of the "Cold War" that followed it, it is clear that NATO was intended to be a tool designed to prevent future military conflicts among European nations, and also to deter any possible Soviet military aggression in Europe. 

In a Wall Street Journal article that appeared in yesterday's paper, we learn that President Trump has now called for NATO to expand its operations into the Middle East. That would appear, at least to my eyes, to reconfigure the original idea of "mutual self-defense," in Europe, into a more proactive military alliance to help the United States run the world. 

Here is what The Wall Street Journal article says about the president's specific remarks:

President Trump called for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to boost its role in the Middle East, in what would be a shift in the alliance’s mission, even suggesting a rebranding of the 71-year-old alliance. 
“NATO, right, and then you have me, Middle East,” the president said at the White House on Thursday. “NATO-ME. What a beautiful name. I think NATO should be expanded and we should include the Middle East. Absolutely.”

This article made me shake my head with bemusement. Granting that it might be appropriate to consider a reconfiguration of how NATO operates, the way the president put the proposition was "typical Trump." With our current president, it's always about the "ME." 

Let's concede that the guy does have a sense of humor of some kind, however. As he professed how much he likes the proposed new name, "NATO-ME," it is pretty clear that the president is playing with the acronym, and undoubtedly intentionally. "ME" may be translated to "Middle East," but Trump knows his own reputation, and that everyone will assume that the new name he is suggesting is a NATO-ME in which the "ME" means Donald Trump. "What a beautiful name!"

Recent events have made it crystal clear that our president does not believe that the initiation of United States military action in the Middle East (or anywhere else) needs to be checked out with our elected representatives in Congress. Thus, expanding the NATO mission to include military action in the Middle East really would be a way to grant our president an expanded military authority, on a personal basis, even beyond what he now asserts. 

Decisions about going to war should not be about the "ME," they should be about the "WE." That's why the Constitution says that only the Congress can declare war. 

Let's keep it that way! That's what I think. 

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Friday, January 10, 2020

#10 / Democracy And Dark Times

Ten days into 2020, New Year's Day is more and more disappearing into the "rearview." Nonetheless, I am still having those "what's ahead for this New Year?" type thoughts. Thoughts like the ones I am talking about tend to be associated with the first days of almost any new year. Thinking about this year, specifically, I am asking myself whether we are going to find that 2020 is a year in which our democracy falters or fails. Dark thoughts do come to mind. Our newspapers are bringing us rumors of war, and I think we must also admit that we are receiving frequent intimations that autocracy may be heading our way.

Beside reading the newspapers, and getting worried, I have been cleaning out old files and accumulated papers. I came across my notes from the "Crises of Democracy" conference held by the Hannah Arendt Center at Bard College in October 2017. That conference was held in reaction, let's admit it, to the results of our 2016 presidential election. As we look forward to another presidential election, in 2020, it strikes me that refreshing our recollection about what thoughtful people were saying about politics in 2017 might be worthwhile. 

Thus, let me provide you with a link to the entire conference proceedings, which are available on a webcast. Other materials are available online, too. I was in attendance at this conference, and if you click the link for the webcast, you will first hear from the President of Bard College, Leon Bottstein. Bottstein is a rather unusual person, and I have always been delighted by his observations, whenever I have attended one of the Hannah Arendt Center conferences. 

In 2017, as he reflected on how technology has impacted our lives, my notes indicate that Bottstein said the following: 

Teaching is like sex. Technology improves it only at the margins. 

Since I am a teacher, currently teaching a course called, "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom," as I did in 2017, too, I naturally liked that comment. I liked all of the proceedings, actually, available through the webcast link above. 

I commend them to you!

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

#9 / More Bad News

Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal ran a story with this headline: "A Major Oil Discovery Is Confirmed in Mexico." As I read the article, it seemed to me that an implicit message in the article was that this was very good news. More is better, right?

As I think back, I can remember scores of articles, over the years, that have celebrated such new discoveries of oil and gas resources. Now we have more oil! That has always been thought a reason to celebrate. Oil runs our world, and now we know, as each new discovery is made, that we aren't going to run out of oil anytime soon.  

It is, clearly, time for us to change our way of thinking. Each new discovery of more recoverable oil and gas is one more reason for not stopping our combustion of hydrocarbon fuels, and it is vitally important that we do quit burning discovered, and yet to be discovered, hydrocarbons. That is, we need to stop burning hydrocarbon fuels if we want human civilization to continue. 

I have been reading a book by Rachel Maddow, Blowout. Her book is about the oil industry, and it helps make sense out of a number of current events. Based on what I am reading in that book, I think Rachel Maddow would agree with me about the discovery of more oil resources:

Every new discovery is more bad news! 

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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

#8 / Hot Mess America?

New York Times' columnist Timothy Egan says America is a "hot mess." That term is defined as follows by

Hot mess is used to describe a particularly disorganized person or chaotic situation.

As we venture into an election year, and a year in which the political stakes are extremely high, such a description of the "state of the union" does not, exactly, inspire confidence and an optimistic sense of our future possibilities. However, I think that a thoughtful read of Egan's opinion-editorial comment might be somewhat comforting.

Egan's column ran in early December of last year, and in the online version of the column, the "hot mess" aspect of America's current situation is headlined. Since Egan's column was written well before President Trump's assassination by drone of Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani, it is fair to say that the "hot mess" Egan mentions is even "hotter" and "messier" now. Let me alert you, however, to the fact that in the hard copy version of the newspaper, which was delivered to my home on December 7th, the headline doesn't use that "hot mess" language. It reads a little bit differently, and I think we should pay attention to that original headline: 

America Still Has a Story To Tell

I believe that the hard copy headline gets it right. Overcoming adversity is always the way that we find a new way forward. Won't it be great when we not only "survive," but "overcome" our hot mess condition, and start leading the world towards a democracy based on the full engagement of ordinary people in the challenges that confront us?* 

Is there any reason to believe that we can't do that? Here's some positive language from Egan's column:

Today, there is no external enemy to unite us — not the British Crown, Nazi Germany or a Communist Soviet Union. For much of the world, and more than half of the United States, Trump is the uniter — the repellent-in-chief. As we saw again this week in Europe, the president is a laughingstock, mocked for his buffoonery, ignorance and bluster. In just a few days abroad, he made 21 false statements, a microcosm of his presidency. 
At home, he wages war on American institutions: the military, the courts, Congress, the press, respect for truth, the Constitution itself. But he also faces certain impeachment, because what he did warrants no other choice. Though he most likely won’t be removed, a majority of Americans say he has committed an impeachable offense. He will be forever remembered for the gross violations of his oath. 
We should be loud and proud with this to the rest of the world: L’état, c’est moi is nowhere in the founding documents. That’s another story America can yet tell.
* I do mean global warming, income inequality, and a new international order based on justice, not military might.

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Tuesday, January 7, 2020

#7 / The Path Ahead

I am kicking off a new class at UCSC today, once again presenting my course on "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom" to thirty or so fourth-year Legal Studies students who are completing their "Capstone Thesis" requirement. Students must complete this course, and their Capstone Thesis, in order to graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Legal Studies.

As I begin this new class, directed at fourth-year students, soon to graduate, I can't help but remember the course I taught last Quarter. That course, entitled "The Ethical and Political Implications of Emerging Technologies," was given to first-year students in Crown College. That course, in other words, was directed to students at the beginning, and not the end, of their college career.

On the last day of class, in that Crown College course, I provided those first-year students with a little advisory on what would be their "path ahead." That advisory works for those just about to graduate, too. In fact, this famous poem by the Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, speaks to us all.

I encourage you to click this link, to be able to follow along as the poet tells us: 

Traveler, your footsteps
Are the path – and nothing else;

Traveler, there isn’t any path;
You make the path as you walk.

You make the path as you walk,
And when you look back
You will see the pathway that
You will never be able to travel again.

Traveler, there isn’t any path,
Just the traces of your footsteps on the sea.

And here is the poem itself, as set to music: 

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Monday, January 6, 2020

#6 / Speaking Of Images

Yesterday, I published an image that was inspiring to me. The image above graces an article by Chris Hedges, writing in Truthdig. This image makes me shiver. I think that is exactly what Chris Hedges expected and wanted it to do. Hedges' analysis, reprinted below in its entirety, should make us all shiver.

With dread!

War With Iran

The assassination by the United States of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, near Baghdad’s airport will ignite widespread retaliatory attacks against U.S. targets from Shiites, who form the majority in Iraq. It will activate Iranian-backed militias and insurgents in Lebanon and Syria and throughout the Middle East. The existing mayhem, violence, failed states and war, the result of nearly two decades of U.S. blunders and miscalculations in the region, will become an even wider and more dangerous conflagration. The consequences are ominous. Not only will the U.S. swiftly find itself under siege in Iraq and perhaps driven out of the country—there is only a paltry force of 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq, all U.S. citizens in Iraq have been told to leave the country “immediately” and the embassy and consular services have been closed—but it could also ominously draw us into a war directly with Iran. The American Empire, it seems, will die not with a whimper but a bang.

The targeting of Soleimani, who was killed by a MQ-9 Reaper drone that fired missiles into his convoy as he was leaving the Baghdad airport, also took the life of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, along with other Iraqi Shiite militia leaders. The strike may temporarily bolster the political fortunes of the two beleaguered architects of the assassination, Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it is an act of imperial suicide by the United States. There is no possible positive outcome. It opens up the possibility of an Armageddon-type scenario relished by the lunatic fringes of the Christian right.

The assassination means Iran, with its Chinese-supplied anti-ship missiles, mines and coastal artillery, will shut down the Strait of Hormuz, which is the corridor for 20% of the world’s oil supply. Oil prices will double, perhaps triple, devastating the global economy. The retaliatory strikes by Iran on Israel, as well as on American military installations in Iraq, will leave hundreds, maybe thousands, of dead. The Shiites in the region, from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, will see an attack on Iran as a religious war against Shiism. The 2 million Shiites in Saudi Arabia, concentrated in the oil-rich Eastern province, the Shiite majority in Iraq and the Shiite communities in Bahrain, Pakistan and Turkey, will turn in fury on us and our dwindling allies. There will be an increase in terrorist attacks, including on American soil, and widespread sabotage of oil production in the Persian Gulf. Hezbollah in southern Lebanon will renew attacks on northern Israel. War with Iran would trigger a long, messy and widening regional conflict that, by the time it is done, would terminate the American Empire and leave in its wake mounds of corpses and smoldering ruins. Let us hope for a miracle to pull us back from this Dr. Strangelove self-immolation.

Iran, which has vowed “harsh retaliation,” is already reeling under the crippling economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration when it unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from the Iranian nuclear arms deal. Tensions in Iraq between the U.S. and the Shiite majority, at the same time, have been escalating. On Dec. 27 Katyusha rockets were fired at a military base in Kirkuk where U.S. forces are stationed. An American civilian contractor was killed and several U.S. military personnel were wounded. The U.S. responded on Dec. 29 by bombing sites belonging to the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia. Two days later Iranian-backed militias attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, vandalizing and destroying parts of the building and causing its closure. But this attack will soon look like child’s play.

Iraq after our 2003 invasion and occupation has been destroyed as a unified country. Its once-modern infrastructure is in ruins. Electrical and water services are, at best, erratic. There is high unemployment and discontent over widespread government corruption that has led to bloody street protests. Warring militias and ethnic factions have carved out competing and antagonistic enclaves. At the same time, the war in Afghanistan is lost, as the Afghanistan Papers published by The Washington Post detail. Libya is a failed state. Yemen after five years of unrelenting Saudi airstrikes and a blockade is enduring one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. The “moderate” rebels we funded and armed in Syria at a cost of $500 million, after instigating a lawless reign of terror, have been beaten and driven out of the country. The monetary cost for this military folly, the greatest strategic blunder in American history, is between $5 trillion and $7 trillion. 

So why go to war with Iran? Why walk away from a nuclear agreement that Iran did not violate? Why demonize a government that is the mortal enemy of the Taliban, along with other jihadist groups, including al-Qaida and Islamic State? Why shatter the de facto alliance we have with Iran in Iraq and Afghanistan? Why further destabilize a region already dangerously volatile?

The generals and politicians who launched and prosecuted these wars are not about to take the blame for the quagmires they created. They need a scapegoat. It is Iran. The hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed, including at least 200,000 civilians, and the millions driven from their homes into displacement and refugee camps cannot, they insist, be the result of our failed and misguided policies. The proliferation of radical jihadist groups and militias, many of which we initially trained and armed, along with the continued worldwide terrorist attacks, have to be someone else’s fault. The generals, the CIA, the private contractors and weapons manufacturers who have grown rich off these conflicts, the politicians such as George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, along with all the “experts” and celebrity pundits who serve as cheerleaders for endless war, have convinced themselves, and want to convince us, that Iran is responsible for our catastrophe.

The chaos and instability we unleashed in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, left Iran as the dominant country in the region. Washington empowered its nemesis. It has no idea how to reverse its mistake other than to attack Iran.

Trump and Netanyahu, as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are mired in scandal. They believe a new war would divert attention from their foreign and domestic crises. But they have no more rational strategy for war with Iran as than they did for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria. European allies, whom Trump alienated when he walked away from the Iranian nuclear agreement, will not cooperate with Washington if the U.S. goes to war with Iran. The Pentagon lacks the hundreds of thousands of troops it would need to attack and occupy Iran. And the Trump administration’s view that the marginal and discredited Iranian resistance group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which fought alongside Saddam Hussein in the war against Iran and is seen by most Iranians as composed of traitors, is a viable counterforce to the Iranian government is ludicrous.

International law, along with the rights of 80 million people in Iran, is ignored just as the rights of the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Syria were ignored. The Iranians, whatever they feel about their despotic regime, would not see the United States as allies or liberators. They do not want to be occupied. They would resist.

A war with Iran would be seen throughout the region as a war against Shiism. But these are calculations that the ideologues, who know little about the instrument of war and even less about the cultures or peoples they seek to dominate, cannot fathom. Attacking Iran would be no more successful than the Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon in 2006, which failed to break Hezbollah and united most Lebanese behind that militant group. The Israeli bombing did not pacify 4 million Lebanese. What will happen if we begin to pound a country of 80 million people whose land mass is three times the size of France?

The United States, like Israel, has become a pariah that shreds, violates or absents itself from international law. We launch preemptive wars, which under international law is defined as a “crime of aggression,” based on fabricated evidence. We, as citizens, must hold our government accountable for these crimes. If we do not, we will be complicit in the codification of a new world order, one that would have terrifying consequences. It would be a world without treaties, statutes and laws. It would be a world where any nation, from a rogue nuclear state to a great imperial power, would be able to invoke its domestic laws to annul its obligations to others. Such a new order would undo five decades of international cooperation—largely put in place by the United States—and thrust us into a Hobbesian nightmare. Diplomacy, broad cooperation, treaties and law, all the mechanisms designed to civilize the global community, would be replaced by savagery. 

Chris Hedges, an Arabic speaker, is a former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. He spent seven years covering the region, including Iran.

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Sunday, January 5, 2020

#5 / Inspired By An Image

My thoughts, as recorded in this daily blog, are quite often inspired by the words I read. Sometimes, however, it is an image that inspires me, and the image above, printed in the "Readers Respond" section of The San Francisco Chronicle on Friday, January 3, 2020, surprised me with its power. This image speaks to me. 

I think (please ask yourself) that this image probably speaks to us all.

As I assume most must know, the words in the image above refer to a saying of Hillel the Elder

If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?

It is our burden, and our glory, that we have the power, always, to act. It is the gift of human freedom that lets us decide, at any moment, to do something that is surprising, even to ourselves, and to create some new reality in the world, something never seen, or even thought of, before.

Would that I might never forget this. Ojalá! Let me never forget to be inspired by this truth. 

You know the chant, I'm sure:

First Shout: What do we want? 
Crowd Response: Freedom, Justice, Compassion, Peace.... (There is a one-word answer,  as we do this chant, but the list of possible responses is extensive. We want to make our dreams come true).
Second Shout: When do we want it? 
Crowd Response:  Now!

The moving typewriter, having writ, has stopped. It has stopped right where you see it stopped.

If not now, when?

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Saturday, January 4, 2020

#4/ Surf's Up

Many of my friends and neighbors around the Monterey Bay Region have seen the video clip, below, showing a man being swept into the ocean at Bonny Doon Beach, in Santa Cruz County. He was there on the rocks, apparently, despite the many warnings, found in the media, that advised people that they should avoid exactly the situation in which this man placed himself.

This recent incident has been widely reported in the local media, including on social media, and the "good news" is that the man pictured, and shown being swept away by a wave, was almost miraculously rescued by Park Rangers, and survived. Watch the video, if you haven't seen it. This is one lucky guy:

I have a habit of turning specific examples into generalizations, the better to absorb the lessons that are, perhaps, being imparted by what we see happening in the world. Rather than thinking about this incident in terms of the one individual who ignored Nature, and nonetheless survived, I tend to think of it as an illustration of a more global truth.

We, human beings, continue to think of ourselves as the Masters of the Natural World, no matter how many warnings we get to the contrary. We seem always to forget that we are, in fact, ultimately dependent on the World of Nature, whose power is so vast that it can never be properly evaluated by our human reason, or made truly subservient to human desire.

Should we be warned? We have been warned! Despite the warnings, we are still on the rocks, defying the waves. We are still pretending that the fires aren't coming for us:

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Friday, January 3, 2020

#3 / Man On A White Horse

Pictured is Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea. His recent ride to the summit of the country’s sacred, snow-covered Mount Paektu, depicted above, was obviously intended to send a message.

In politics, the "Man on a White Horse," for whom we always seem to be waiting, is the person who is expected to save the nation, win the battle, and conquer all our enemies. That's the traditional role of a "Man on a White Horse," at least as I have understood the expression. Until I read the newspaper article with which this picture appeared, I had no idea that North Korea had a "Man on a White Horse" tradition, too. I thought it was strictly a Western concept. 

In the West, the "Man on a White Horse" myth seems to originate in the Book of Revelations. Here's Chapter 19, Verse 11:

Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.

That's where we got the idea! The righteous warrior who leads us to victory? That's our "Man on a White Horse," and the idea comes straight out of the New Testament.

Kim Jung-un does not really fit that New Testament picture. Kim Jung-un does not conform to the image I have in my mind. I wonder whether the people of North Korea see him as a "righteous warrior," either. According to The New York Times, the fact that Kim took this trip through virgin snow bodes ill for the kind of relationship we can expect with North Korea. Just in case anyone thought that our president was about to resolve the animosity between the United States and North Korea, this trip appears to signal the opposite. That's what The Times says, anyway.

I'd like to suggest that this recent appeareance of the "Man on a White Horse" symbol should make us reconsider the concept in its entirety. Kim Jung-un just doesn't fit the bill, and neither does Donald J. Trump.

Instead of waiting around for that always-hoped-for and never-actually-seen "Man on a White Horse," I suggest we take control of our politics and future for ourselves.

"Do It Yourself," after all, is the democratic way!

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