Friday, June 23, 2017

Good Days

Hot coffee first thing, with brilliantly bright sunshine flooding in through our mini-big-rooms six large windows that encompass the entire exterior wall. Feed and walk Annie.

Turn on my computer and with my phone and notepads spend each day with an amazing view, working through challenges, big and small, to help our faculty help our students graduate.

Then, at 4:30 into the yard. While the rhodies and azaleas were exploding with color, we moved a massive volume of oak leaves and the now-blooming mountain laurels and wild blueberry patch seem to appreciate the breathing room.

Cut the grass twice already and each time that catalyzes a strenuous couple of hours building my leaf compost piles.

Our year one pile1 in the semi-circle has burned down impressively into soil without even a turn. Year one pile2 is what I used to create my own first pile with green integrated at the end of last summer, using up about 20% of pile2.

This summer I am using my fresh cut grass to turn the remaining 80% of that pile, and about 2/3 of that job is done already.

Satisfying work. I particularly like the combination of intensive mental labor most of the day, in a beautiful location, followed by strenuous physical labor at the end of the day.

Then Julie and I go visit my parents to top it off perfectly!


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Words Matter
If you want to use this shooting as a platform for toning down the hateful rhetoric, speak to your allies not your opponents or you are just replicating the problem.

The Hill reported that Representative Chris Collins spoke out on the day of the shooting against anti-Trump rhetoric.
"I can only hope that the Democrats do tone down the rhetoric," Collins told WBEN. "The rhetoric has been outrageous ... the finger-pointing, just the tone and the angst and the anger directed at Donald Trump, his supporters." 
Collins said that it was inevitable someone was going to act based on the "rhetoric" toward President Trump and the GOP. 
"You know, some people react to things like that. They get angry as well. And then you fuel the fires," said Collins, who is among the most vocal Trump backers on Capitol Hill. 
A police spokeswoman said the shooter was in the hospital after being shot by police. Collins said Democrats should take the attack as a "wake-up call."
"Maybe this is a wake-up call. I'm not saying it will be," Collins continued. "But let's hope we could disagree on a more polite, conversational basis and not do things like what they did at my office a couple weeks ago." 
Protesters held a "die-in" at Collins's office last week to protest the GOP efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Collins said the move went "too far." 
"I can only hope maybe there's something here that would say: Let's tone down the rhetoric. We can disagree politically but we can be polite," Collins said. "It's gone too far."
My first reaction to this was astonishment, given the far more extreme hatred regularly directed toward President Obama.

But then I thought both my response and Representative Collin's initial response are not only unproductive, but even worse: they are dishonest because they are unproductive in a way that assumes only the other side is responsible for polarization gone wild.

Both sides can make a case that the other side started it or has been more extreme or less reasonable, because that case already make sense within our own echo chambers.

But, if we want to use this shooting as a platform for toning down the hateful rhetoric, we all need to speak to our allies not our opponents or we are just replicating the problem. 

If we exploit this tragedy to suggest to voters that 'this is evidence that the other side is as hateful as we have been saying all along' than we are not interested in toning down the hateful rhetoric: we have just ratcheted it up even more.

And this is about a lot more than being more polite, though that is a very good place to start. Representative Collins could have made his comments with perfect manners, but like my own response, that does not make them any more productive or less dishonest and harmful.

Civility starts with reciprocity and a recognition that even when we disagree, we share a goal: problem-solving based on achieving agreements. 

In that spirit, civility requires us to choose words, from among the myriad options, that express our meaning in a way that is designed to increase the possibility that other sides will see the reasonableness of our position and agreements become easier to achieve.

Choosing words designed to hurt or marginalize or ridicule, words that paint an inaccurate picture on purpose, words that seek to ramp up anger and fear, words that distract and mislead and demonize...these are all lacking in civility, a threat to democracy, and ways of communicating that we should all stand against if we can stand united on anything.

Civility is not censorship. It does mean we cannot expect a positive outcome when we simply blurting out the first thing that comes to mind or cultivating a habit of not listening and man-splaining or white-splaining. It does require us to think first and to consider other's perspectives, particularly those who see the world differently than we do...because this is what we need to do to communicate and deliberate and problem solve.

Civility is not censorship, but civility does require us to share a desire to base decisions on the best available data. Sure, we can disagree on the best data. But we should also be able to agree that entirely fact-free positions designed to confuse and seed chaos, while these might seem to benefit some elites in the short term, hurt us all in the long term and must be discouraged. Not silenced (not censorship), but repudiated. Demonstrated to be wrong.

Similarly, civility concerns that drive communities to create safe places for difficult dialogues are not code for conservative views are not welcome. Sometimes words and events traumatize and it is not unreasonable to create spaces where even greater care, even more attention to civility and kindness and listening, is prioritized.

Political correctness that silences a perspective pre-emptively (like in a campus speech code or trigger warnings on syllabi) is not civility; claims that any perspective we do not like can be dismissed without debate as 'political correctness is not civility. 

When some make it their mission to attack and ridicule anyone who uses the wrong word, rather than join them in a conversation about civility and problem solving as potential (and future) allies, they create the otherwise imaginary PC monster of legend and this is uncivil; when others use an anecdote about the PC monster to justify their failure to choose their words carefully, their failure to enter debate with a shared goal of achieving agreements to solve problems, their failure to be polite and respectful and kind this is deeply uncivil.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Resist distraction by design, Return home to Kansas
Eugene Robinson does a good job of identifying the lessons to be learned from Kansas about the predictably false promises regularly made about how tax cuts will spur job growth.

‘The states are supposed to be laboratories for testing government policy. For five years, Kansas’ Republican governor, Sam Brownback, conducted the nation’s most radical exercise in trickle-down economics — a “real live experiment,” he called it. He and the GOP-controlled Legislature slashed the state’s already-low tax rates, eliminated state income tax for most owner-operated businesses and sharply reduced vital government services. These measures were supposed to deliver “a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” Brownback said.
It ended up being a shot of poison. Growth rates lagged behind those in neighboring states and the nation as a whole. Deficits mounted to unsustainable levels. Services withered. Brownback had set in motion a vicious cycle, not a virtuous one.
Last week, finally, the Legislature — still controlled by Republicans — overrode Brownback’s veto of legislation restoring taxation to sane levels. The nightmare experiment is coming to an end….
…Eliminating business income taxes for owner-operated companies was supposed to induce entrepreneurs to move to Kansas from other states. It didn’t. It turned out that business owners take more than taxes into account when they decide where to locate. They want good health care and first-rate schools for themselves and their employees. They want modern, well-maintained infrastructure. In short, they want a healthy, functioning public sector.

But it strikes me as unlikely that Republicans in Congress will learn from the lessons in Kansas and more likely they will follow the president’s lead and distract, confuse, and intimidate to advance an agenda designed to benefit only the uber-wealthy. This strategy can be reasonably understood as what Naomi Klein calls the shock doctrine.

Naomi Klein’s analysis of ‘the shock doctrine,’ is very helpful, because we need to not only understand Trump on the level of this or that policy idea, but also on the deeper level of strategy and political communication in particular.

And she provides a 5 step action-oriented process for resisting elite efforts to benefit as a class from chaos, confusion and distraction… and bring us back to the best available data so we can learn the hard lessons made clear from experiments like we now see in Kansas.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

An Important Emerging Voice
That is what Senator Cory Booker (D, NJ) calls Senator Ben Sasse (R, NE), noting that "Whether we agree or disagree, when he speaks, I'm listening."

Ben Sasse wrote The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming of Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance in 2017.

Senator Sasse is interviewed on The Charlie Rose Show. In the interview, he notes that—while this book is not about politics—if we don’t tackle this problem, the American experiment is at risk. 

He added that we need to figure out what neighborliness looks like today, address the decline of mediating institutions, social capital, and local engagement. 

In this sense, he conceded, if we do change these we will also change the larger political dysfunction in positive ways.

Senator Sasse has a doctorate in History from Yale. In the interview he often sounds, just a bit, like a professor, making reference to Tocqueville, suggesting arguments like those in Habits of the Heart or Bowling Alone, and more.

My Dad sent me a note in an email and a link to a Sasse story on NPR:

So, I had to watch the story, then Dad & I watched the Charlie Rose interview. Today I bought two copies of the book, one for my Dad for Father’s Day and one for me, because I am considering using this in my new Social Entrepreneurship class.

Looking forward to reading the book and discussing it with my Dad. 
Executive Power, Lying, and Democracy
One of the disturbing aspects of the political spectacle today is the paralysis and hopelessness many feel watching a president who is willing to double-down on all levels of lies, from the trivial to the monumental, with unlimited hubris over and over again demonstrating a blindspot in our system of checks and balances.

We have not solved the vexing problem of bully’s in the playground and now face a similar challenge of a bully in the White House…one who is willing to push the envelope at every turn, mixing and matching skillful bullshitting with threats and an awareness that authority figures must proceed cautiously against bullies for a variety of very concrete reasons.

David Ignatius frames the challenge as Comey the moralist ill-equipped to make sense out of Trump the dealmaker, or perhaps the pragmatist.

George Will’s column today argues that, while Will is no friend of the president, he sees in the tactics of some environmentalists a form of moralism that chooses to be ill-equipped to make sense out of pragmatism dealmakers in DC and corporate boardrooms.

Ignatius notes the centrality of lying in Comey’s thinking, such that when more than 90 million watched Comey’s testimony he says we saw a ‘raw morality play, told in Comey’s words, about his dealings with a president whose behavior frightened him. “I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting, and so I thought it really important to document,” Comey said about his Jan. 6 meeting with Donald Trump.’

Ignatius also includes the ever-present personal dimension to even the most high-drama conflicts: Comey’s image-management and ‘personal pain’ as well as the president’s personal prioritizing of loyalty over competence.

‘Thursday’s hearing offered a haunting portrait of a moralist confronting a dealmaker. Comey conveyed his fastidious attention to ethics, and to his own reputation. He spoke of his “personal pain” in dealing with the Hillary Clinton investigation, his concern for morale if FBI agents heard that Trump “wants the Flynn investigation to go away.”

He wrote memos after his encounters and briefed his closest aides. But he didn’t take the evidence of what he saw as Trump’s wrongdoing to Justice Department superiors or congressional oversight committees…. As Trump stressed so baldly, in Comey’s telling, he wanted loyalty — much as a feudal lord might seek allegiance from his barons.’

Will’s analysis juxtaposes a DC lawyer’s case for more reasonable environmental regulations, reforms that might reduce delays from many years to no more than two years, with one activist group’s efforts to portray this lawyer’s claims, seen by Will to be moderate, as extreme. And, as Will paints the picture, by doing so to silence even reasonable counterarguments resulting in a stalemate.

This activist group, according to Will, choose stalemate on the mistaken belief that any capacity to delay corporate polluters benefits progressive causes like the environment. Will argues that tactics like this are short-sighted, in the long run hurting the causes that progressives support.

Will provides several illustrations, including the claim that ‘while faux environmentalists litigate against modernizing America’s electrical grid, transmission lines waste 6 percent of the electricity they transmit, which equals 16 percent of 2015 coal power generation and is equal to the output of 200 average sized coal-burning power plants.’

What interests me more, since I do not know enough about the specifics to conclude the degree to which the reformist lawyer or the activist group is correct, is how Will describes the activist groups approach to political communication.

‘Intelligent people of goodwill can dispute, as the CAP [activist group] rejoinder does, Howard’s [DC Lawyer] cost-benefit calculations. But the CAP partakes of the hyperbole normal in today’s environmental policy debates: It includes Howard among “hardcore opponents of environmental review” who “consider federal laws that protect the environment fundamentally illegitimate.” Even the title of the CAP’s response to Howard’s arguments for more pertinent and efficacious environmental reviews is meretricious: “Debunking the False Claims of Environmental Review Opponents.”

Opponents? Including Howard? Hardly. David Burge, who tweets as @iowahawkblog, satirizes this slapdash style of progressive argumentation: “To help poor children, I am going to launch flaming accordions into the Grand Canyon.”

“That’s stupid.”


I wonder if there is another type or level of ‘lying’ manifest here. Maybe it is structural lying or a corollary to the ‘iron law of bureaucracy’ we might call ‘process lying’ that is, at its core, less about truth v falsity and more about misrepresentation, about re-presenting a private interest (sustaining my activist group) as a public interest. This is a tactic long known to be central to corporate BS; why wouldn’t those who seek greater constraints on corporate power use it as well?

Will concludes by returning to the president.

‘Today’s governance is illuminated by presidential epiphanies (e.g., “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated”). Barack Obama had one concerning infrastructure: “There’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” This is partly because, as Stanford political scientist Francis Fukuyama says, America has become a “vetocracy” in which intense, well organized factions litigate projects into stasis.’

This is not really a conclusion, but more like a starting point. And it seems smart to start by putting the president’s hubris into a larger context that gives meaning to it, not as idiosyncratic but symptomatic of how our democracy has come to operate over time.

Here I am less interested in whether any party is ‘right on the facts here’ and more interested in the portrait of dysfunctional communication provided, where the confusion can be seen to be by design, constructed by PR experts for decades to insulate elites from accountability and protect governmental preference for corporations and more. And it has now morphed into something even uglier and more dangerous in a principle-and-experience-free president willing to exploit this deep-seated dysfunction to the detriment of the Republic.

Watching this president disturbs me, every day. Figuring out how to reverse the decline he represents and accelerates, however, requires us to turn our attention to the larger structural fissures in the great American experiment that his portrayal of ‘John Doe’ reminds us about. And then, as if that were not daunting enough, to do this while also balancing the imperative to oppose him everyday.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

One Love
Okay, so it does seem odd to me when someone raised in one culture tries to live as if they were raised in a very different culture, but who am I to judge.

But it does strike me as odd sometimes.

I say that because I am often drawn to a story attributed to the Cherokee because that story emphasizes our agency and the cumulative meaning of our everyday choices, adding up to life we construct as the person we become.

Which wolf am I feeding when I let my thoughts wander to how lazy or cold-hearted some other person is? And as I feed that wolf more, even if my observation is accurate, how does that impact me? Create me?

Just like loving our enemies is the true test, because it is easy to love our friends, it is easy to fall into the trap that 'being right' justifies being mean or unkind. Because that other person really is a loser or a swine my mean-spirited ridicule of him is not feeding the angry wolf.

But it is.

And it is letting that other persons meanness or arrogance or ignorance seep into our inner life, tarnishing our efforts to feed the good wolf.

For the same reasons I like another bit of wisdom, this one more in the form of a prayer, that I have seen attributed to Lao Tzu (and to Gandhi), because this thought-guide reminds me that my destiny, the end point each day or at the end of my life, my path and identity and who I am...

...this does not just happen and certainly not without my contribution...

...and it is useful to trace our own contributions back to our thoughts, what we choose to think about, how we think, the degree to which we reject a self-centered perspective and choose to think about our selves sharing a world with others,

...and how these choices about what to think about impact the words we speak in any moment and the words we come to favor and use often

...and even our ability and willingness to think about how we can choose words that hurt less without losing our capacity to be clear and honest and ourselves.

We can choose to make the less hurtful words part of our self we feed the good wolf.

And when we engage in this daily struggle over how to think and speak in a world with others like us, this impacts our actions (beyond speaking as an action), what we choose to do to make a living or in our spare time or for fun or in response to situations.

And then, these layered and embedded choices over time create habits of the heart that define our character and create our path by walking it.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Philip & Lauren are getting married and Jemma Lemma Ding-Dong will be there to celebrate with the rest of us!

We keep coming back to this great news, each day reminding each other that 'Philip & Lauren are getting married,' because this--like Brian & Casey--reminds us that we are very fortunate to have each other, to share as a family the burden and the privilege of constructing our lives together.

Like Brian & Casey, Philip & Lauren are lucky to have found each other. It is amazing and heart-warming to watch them growing closer, coming together to build mutually fulfilling lives, and helping each other become better people each day.

I am deeply appreciative to be able to share this journey and adventure with them and with Jules--who is the heart and soul bringing beauty and joy to my life at every turn. Philip & Lauren are getting married...Yippee, Yahoo, and Yeah!!