Has the News Overtaken Reality?

In this excellent article in The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman writes that “for a certain segment of the population, the news has come to fill up more and more time – and, more subtly, to occupy centre stage in our subjective sense of reality, so that the world of national politics and international crises can feel more important, even more truly real, than the concrete immediacy of our families, neighbourhoods and workplaces. It’s not simply that we spend too many hours glued to screens. It’s that for some of us, at least, they have altered our way of being in the world such that the news is no longer one aspect of the backdrop to our lives, but the main drama.”


I highly recommend the entire article, but here are some snippets:  He writes “To live with a part of your mind perpetually in the world of the news, exposed to an entire planet’s worth of mendacity and suffering, railing against events too vast for any individual to alter, is to feel what Greenfield, author of the book Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, calls “a low-grade sense of panic and loss of control”, so normal it has come to feel routine … Perhaps you have felt that ridiculous yet discernible pressure, on social media, to emit an official opinion about every natural disaster, celebrity death or Trump administration policy announcement, as if each of us were the ambassador of a small nation, from whom silence might be interpreted as callous lack of concern.”

He correctly observes that news isn’t reality; it distorts our views of reality.  He writes that “A functioning public sphere also depends on collective access to a shared body of facts about reality, to serve as the stable ground on which to hash out our differences of opinion. But with such an enormous surplus of information, filtered on the basis of what compels each user’s attention, that shared basis of facts is soon eroded. Meanwhile, the algorithms of social media invisibly sort us into ever more separate communities of ever more similar people, so that even if you are discussing, say, movies or sport, you’re increasingly likely to be doing so with those who share your political affiliations; the more you engage with politics, the more everything becomes political – and, research suggests, the harder it becomes to understand your political opponents as fully human. This is a situation ripe for exploitation by demagogues, who understand that their power consists in turning the whole of life into a battleground divided along political lines, thereby maximising their domination of public attention.”  Demagogues?  Trump?

Finally, “This raises a possibility alien to news addicts, committed political activists and journalists alike: that we might owe it not only to our sanity, but also to the world at large, to find a way to put the news back in its place.”





Why We Can’t Solve Homelessness

According to this article, the vast majority of people being pushed out onto the streets by America’s growing urban economies do not need dedicated social workers or intensive medication regimes. They simply need higher incomes and lower housing costs. The article goes on to claim that “The biggest hindrance to solving homelessness is that city residents keep demanding the least effective policies.”  Such as criminalizing panhandling and bulldozing tent encampments.

Alarmingly, the article finally states that “the only way to address the crisis is through a concerted — and costly — expansion of government assistance. And yet, even as homelessness becomes a defining feature of urban growth, no city in America can afford to meaningfully address it. Before the 1980s, most of the responsibility for low-income housing, rental assistance and mental health treatment fell on the federal government.  Since then, though, these costs have been systematically handed over to cities. And there are no signs that it’s going to get better. The economy is creating new homeless people faster than cities can house them.”

The entire article, and links to supporting articles, are worth reading, but IMO the key point being made is that homelessness can’t be solved at the local level.  In our local community, it’s clear that this is true.  So I have to ask, where is the federal or even state leadership?

Homeless Camp in Santa Cruz

Homeless camp in Santa Cruz, Winter/Spring 2019


Guinea worm is almost eradicated*

*And other good news. 

It’s really easy to focus on all the things that are “getting worse”.  Like, the number of hours per day dedicated to reading about one of the Kardashians, or the stupidity of Trump’s tweets.  But this article takes the long view on a number of important measurements, in the US and WW.  Things like world hunger, homicides rates, and poverty are getting better.  It’s not a comprehensive list, but if you think things are going to “hell in a handbasket”, first take a look at the stats in the article.  And smile.


You are who you hate

Interesting comment in issue 872 of the Editor’s Letter in The Week magazine:  “For much of the electorate, politics is a ritualized display of tribal identity, not a mere choice of policies.  You are who you hate.”

IMO, it’s in the self-interest of our political parties (tribes) to drive ever harder wedges between one another, because the #1 function of a tribe is to out-compete other tribes.  It’s hard-wired into our genes from our primate ancestors.

George Washington warned against the formation of political parties and urged the nation to choose leaders for reasons that transcended partisan politics.  Hmmm.


Median home prices near me – ouch

The median home price in San Jose, the nearest big city, is $1M.  That’s way more than LA, NY, and even SF.  It’s the highest in the US.  How can young families afford it?  They can’t of course.  And rents are likewise sky-high.

This article in Kiplinger lists the median home prices for the top 100 US metro areas.  Even the median price, $800K, in the little burg I’m near, Santa Cruz, is a lot higher than anywhere else in the US.  This 950 sq ft home in Santa Cruz recently sold for a little over $800K, the median price in Santa Cruz.  In my hometown of Garden City, MI, it would be around $80K, a tenth of Santa Cruz.  I’m speechless.136 Wendell St, SANTA CRUZ, CA 95060




12 things we COULD do to reduce the gun problem

Blaming AR15s for gun violence is like blaming white colored vehicles for causing the most deaths on our roads.  It’s the most popular vehicle color, so chances are, it’s going to be involved in the most road deaths.  So if we ban white vehicles, will highway deaths decrease?

IMO, the #1 thing we could do:  We could censor popular media; who currently have little self-censorship. People all too easily turn to guns to solve problems.  Where did they learn this?  Answer:  popular media.  The people in Hollywood who want to ban guns make billions by glorifying gun violence.  And who is going to be more seduced by the image of John Wayne blasting Indians, or Dirty Harry, or other Hollywood Americans who become heros by killing people with guns?  Will an American teenager  or a Japanese teenager more closely relate to American heros?  And the country with the greatest correlation of usage of violent video games to gun violence?  Brazil, not the U.S, and it’s not close.

What else could we do, but won’t?

  1. We could make it harder for people convicted of ANY violent crimes to get guns.
  2. We could aggressively punish violent transgressors instead of slapping their wrists, even if it means building more jails.  Stick up a 7-11?  Say goodbye to your freedom forever.
  3. We could jail therapists who don’t “out” the nut jobs they know are a danger to others.
  4. We could stop threatening the 2nd amendment so gun owners don’t have to take extreme positions and instead, encourage them to work with everyone else on the problem.  The NRA only represents 5% of gun owners.  IMO we have no hope of establishing a meaningful dialogue with the NRA, nor with the anti-gun zealots, the two entities carrying 95% of the debate.  Gun owners feel assaulted for exercising their rights.  Which is why we need the NRA, a necessary evil.
  5. Related to #4, we could make existing laws fairer and less difficult to understand, and NOT use CA as a blueprint for federal laws. The ONLY way to understand the California laws, for instance, is to buy and use the 500+ page book on “CA Gun Laws”.  I have not met a cop or even gun shop owner who understands all the CA gun laws.
  6. We could legalize drugs and kill the revenue source of gun-using gangs and BTW, save the lives of countless innocent people in Latin America.
  7. Related to #6, we could shift tax dollars from things like drug enforcement and incarceration to education.  This would help build a strong economy so people get good jobs and have hope.  IMO too many shootings are perpetrated by people with no hope.
  8. We could identify at-risk individuals through schools and the military, and offer/ force counseling.
  9. We could admit that suicides are not a gun problem, it’s a people problem.  Stop lumping suicides in with homicide stats.  Let’s be real.
  10. We could stop listening to gun-ignorant people for solutions.  NOT being a gun owner doesn’t make you an expert in gun usage, even if you are really smart.  For instance, I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve talked to that are not aware that in CA, all gun purchases require a background check, even private party deals (which have to go through a dealer).
  11. We could harshly punish every parent who’s found guilty of making guns available (unsupervised) to kids.  A few “punishment” examples would solve most of this part of the problem.  Public beatings should not be taken off the table.  Yes I know this seems extreme but it’s not as bad as the gun violence caused by this issue.

I’m sure there are dozens of other things we could do, after careful and bi-partisan study.

CSU Drops Algebra Requirement – Halleujah

I’m so impressed that the California State University system dropped the algebra requirement.  Impressed … because it’s more forward thinking than I normally give our established academicians credit for.  In his book “In Defense of the American Teen“, author Ryan Teves makes a compelling argument to give young people a basic education, then allow them to pursue their passions. Forcing people who do not want or need algebra is just plain stupid.  So I say “congratulations CSU!”  Keep innovating and keep your curriculum relevant!  You are in the business of serving students, not academic dinosaurs. celebrate

Next, let’s try to get the people in charge of K-12 out of the dark ages.


California Dems screw us again

It appears that it’s a hardship to pay for your traffic fines. So, now, you don’t have to pay traffic tickets in CA.


Keep in mind that we have the worst drivers in the US.


Or if you believe this website, we only have the 2nd worst drivers.  I’ve been to Utah, and I dispute their claim to be #1.


Biggest news of the year/ decade

Seems like everyone is focused on politics, president Cheeto-head, the Kardashians, ISIS, or the crisis-of-the-month.  But this little tidbit almost slid by my radar:  94% of the jobs created in the past decade were not traditional 9-5, full-time jobs.  According to this study, conventional jobs are disappearing. You know, like jobs with benefits.

For those of us who are boomers and maybe Gen-Xers, it’s not a huge problem.  We mostly already have jobs.  But millennials have to figure out how to carve out a living with small chance of buying a home, getting health insurance from an employer, or providing for retirement.

Something to think about when the government thinks about shutting down health insurance subsidies and cutting back on social security benefits for those just entering the workforce.  And I guess that Uber drivers can always raise their families in their vans, which is OK as long as the founders of Uber are zillionaires.