Sea Things

A Sea Change

Stop! We must stop before the ocean becomes unlivable. We understand so little about the underwater world and have such a huge impact. Today is the day to turn the corner and begin to explore alternatives.

If We Change

We can do things differently. If we want to reevaluate and reassess, we can find better ways to thrive in harmony with other animals and ecosystems. We can find the will if we look for it.

The claw of a crab that washed ashore north of Santa Cruz.

When We See

Once we know something, we can’t ignore it. Knowledge takes a place in our minds that is hard to dislodge. We have awakened to the dangers we have created and it is time to start thinking of solutions to our problems. For more information on the amazing lives of Sea Anenomes, check out this article by the National Aquarium: Sea Anenomes

City Hall Rose Garden

Peak Spring in Santa Cruz

May is skipping along with youthful exuberance as it often does in Santa Cruz. People have put the winter and the pandemic behind them and are intent on making the most out of the season. The plants are also enjoying the warmth and longer days as shown by the proliferation of blooms

New Energy, Positive Thinking

Despite the doom and gloom of the daily news there are new blooms to remind us of the inherent goodness of life. The City Hall in Santa Cruz had a remarkable rose garden that is overflowing with beautiful flowers. Reflecting on the power of Spring can give us a sense of hope. Remember how the storms were raging the first quarter of the year? The mood downtown is remarkably different.

27 April 2023 NPR’s Morning Edition: Jake’s Takes

This has become a really beneficial writing experiment for me. It is forcing me to research things that I might otherwise acknowledge but not really consider. When I hold myself responsible to think about the topics of the day, it helps me to overcome certain limits that I had unconsciously accepted. This is our world and we are the ones who will shape it. I am thinking through these things and my thoughts are subject to change as I learn more. My goal is to be respectful and to engage in dialogue with these stories in a productive way. I hope to remain faithful to that goal and to build up my ability to debate about serious topics without becoming cynical or resorting to uncivil expression of opinion. I have a long way to go in this process, but I hope that you find something inspiring in the attempt.

1.    A mother’s diary: She and her son fled the fighting in Sudan’s capital Khartoum. The people affected by war are very much a part of the story. It isn’t simply a dispute between armed forces. There are the lives disrupted by the mayhem that fighting causes. It is a time when normal people are asked to extraordinary things. Their world is at risk. Their existence is uncertain. When this level of danger arises, what does it take to spring into action? How do they find the heart to leave their homes with no certain destination? How do you protect your children from the reality of the war? These are the things we should think about, a mother’s love for her children and the difficulty of fleeing a warzone, when we are discussing the situation in Khartoum.

2.    The U.S. economy is losing steam. Bank woes and other hurdles are to blame. It feels like we have been on the verge of a recession for the past couple of years. Last year was not a good one for many people in business. This year started out with dismal results. We have been hiking uphill with a backpack full of rocks. Still, we seem to be avoiding the worst-case scenario for now. Losing steam is expected under the current conditions. Inflation is taxing the average person to the limits of their means. It’s a good time to be frugal, but the expenses of living keep coming. Let’s hope that we manage to turn this spring into something we can build on and fight our way out of this downward trend.

3.    What can be done to stop the next attempt to leak military secrets? Having top secret clearance should mean something. We shouldn’t be giving access to our most important information to anyone who is not thoroughly vetted. At the same time, maybe we should be more transparent about our actions and intentions. If we weren’t hiding anything, there would be nothing to leak. Is secrecy vital to national security, or is there another way? I think that there is a power to being transparent in your relationships. If you are an open book, then you have more authority. People should know what their government is doing. I don’t believe that secrecy serves our best interest.

4.    Soccer legend Pelé is being immortalized in a Portuguese language dictionary. Pelé is one of if not the best players of the world’s most popular sport. There is little chance that he will be forgotten. Recognizing greatness in athletics is nothing new. There is something about the human condition that lends itself to praising the physical accomplishments of athletes. The rules are the same for everyone. We all have basically the same tools. Some players, however, figure out how to take what they have been giving and find an edge that gives them the advantage. Is it confidence, or does confidence come because of it? Long live Pelé!

5.    Li Yan-he, a book publisher based in Taiwan, went missing after a trip to China. China is an amazing country. With the world’s largest population and an ancient history, it is full of mysteries. The relation between Taiwan and China is tense, and our involvement in the situation seems to be problematic at best. Why do we sell arms to Taiwan? Is it because we support the Taiwanese ambition to be acknowledged as their own state, or is our incentive merely economic? There are many questions about this nexus of powers, and any little escalation must be taken seriously.

6.    Writer Neil Gaiman debuts his first music album with an Australian string quartet. Neil Gaiman is an interesting writer who has worked in many different media. I admire his unorthodox approach to creating work. Artists who can contribute to various conversations have a special place in my heart. Looking forward to learning more about this project.

7.    Disney sues Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, claiming ‘government retaliation’. This is a strange situation where a conservative governor and a world-famous theme park are fighting a legal battle. What is DeSantis trying to do? Is this his self-sabotaging moment? Will this mark the end of his presidential aspirations? I need to learn more about the specifics of this case, but at face value it seems like a bad strategy for the governor.

8.    U.S. and South Korea formalize a series of steps to try to deter North Korea. Once the world had nuclear weapons, things became very strange. The power to kill is everywhere too present in the world. What do we do with this unsettling predicament? We try to be diplomatic, to be strategic, and to work with our allies to stabilize the global system of national security. We are held hostage to the intentions of leaders who have less to lose and more power to destroy.

9.    Transit agencies, including D.C., participate in the Autism Transit Project. The more inclusive we become, the stronger our culture will be. When we make space for people who have previously been left out of the conversation our entire dialogue enrichens. I understand that conservatives in the Right get frustrated with this kind of thing, but they have not been left out of the conversation. There is a power in seeing yourself reflected in the public discourse, and that power will help our people to grow and for us to become stronger collectively. What is the issue with that?

10. He ‘Proved Mike Wrong.’ Now he’s claiming his $5 million. I have zero insights into whatever this may be. The headline is too vague for me to find a handle. I guess it is a chance to explain why I love millionaires but do not like billionaires. There is something fun and aspirational about the idea of $5 million. That is a lifestyle that is not so out of reach as to be depressing. The concept of having billions of dollars in this world currently is something that I find to be devoid of moral worth. That’s a lot of money and not a lot of character. Long live the millionaire.

11. Lawmakers in Montana’s House vote to punish transgender lawmaker Rep. Zephyr. I wish that this was a surprise, but it is entirely predictable. Some people are going to cling to their bigotry like a life raft. It’s sad, though, because they are only reinforcing their hatred. Having tolerance for differences is a good place to start. It’s time to deescalate the public discourse.

12. Argentina’s peso continues its slide to lows not seen for decades. What happens in a country when its money becomes unstable? How do people survive? Does it become a system of barter and exchange? It is a disturbing example of how reliant we are upon money in general, but I’m curious to learn more about how people cope with a monetary system that is losing its value.

13. South Korea’s president surprised guests at White House dinner by singing. I can imagine worse things than a president who attempts to use song to create some kind of connection to people who are important allies.

14. Disability groups say California’s assisted suicide law discriminates against them. I wonder how this has come to be a problem. The assisted suicide law is not widely talked about, but if it is discriminating against people with disabilities, then something is wrong. I can imagine that there may be some moral questions about the ability to take this drastic measure. It is not an easy subject to discuss, but it is very important to get it right, if that’s even possible.

15. House Republican lawmakers overcome internal divisions to pass debt ceiling bill. This is a good thing. We need to show some discretion when it comes to negotiations. Some things are too important to put in jeopardy for the sake of scoring political points. I’m glad that this has come to a place of resolution.

16. How can people spot fake images created by artificial intelligence? I’m not sure that images created by artificial intelligence should be considered fake. All images are fake to some degree. When it comes to an image that deliberately misrepresents the truth, we will have some difficulties, certainly. For the most part, it will be vetted by the public who are very good at finding these visual lies. It also depends upon the reputation of the person posting the images. Deliberately falsifying the truth opens one up to a loss of credibility and to potential suits accusing them of slander. We have had the ability to fake images with Photoshop for a long time, and people do, but it is not that hard to sort out the real from the fake.

17. Veterans fight back against extremist groups trying to recruit ex-military members. Veterans are used as pawns in the media so often. People speak about the military as though they are all of one mind. Our veterans make up a diverse swath of our population. I think that the main thing that unifies them is that they have served and deserve some support. If we supported our veterans more, then extremist groups would not even be tempted to recruit them. It is only because of our failure to provide support to our former soldiers that they become targeted by these groups.

25 April 2023, NPR’s Morning Edition: Editorial by Jake Thomas

I’m continuing this practice of writing about the stories of the day based solely on the headlines. The great joy is to listen to the stories after I have delivered my thoughts, as sometimes I am wrong and always there is more to the story. Mostly, however, I have thoughts about these topics that I am willing to back. Sometimes I only have questions. The process is fruitful, however, and I hope that if you read these entries, this diary of public thought, that you will grant me a degree of forgiveness when I am mistaken or overly passionate about a subject. I am no expert, just a person who cares and is still learning. I won’t hide my beliefs, but I know they are also subject to change as I learn more. I want to thank the people of NPR for the astounding work they do on a daily basis. It is truly amazing to experience the breadth of their work, and I humbly add my thoughts to this great undertaking.

1.    While Israel is in turmoil, tonight it marks its 75th Independence Day. I wonder how things will be in Israel, tonight. What are people thinking and feeling on this remarkable anniversary? I will have to ask some of my Jewish friends how they are receiving this momentous occasion. The Jewish people have been through so much and they are such a critical part of World Culture. Surely, this is an occasion to celebrate despite whatever challenges remain.

2.    How Tucker Carlson took fringe conspiracy theories to a mass audience. Tucker Carlson lost his pedestal yesterday. He is no longer a part of Fox News, and his departure marks a turning point for the conservative news organization. Carlson’s persona, a buttoned-up conservative, was able to give voice to the fringe because of an ideology of jingoism that refuses to go away in our culture. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments, but jingoism is a perverted form of nationalism. It is patriotism gone wild. When people defensively claim that our country is the best the world has ever known they are super susceptible to falling for any fool with a bowtie. After all, it all depends upon your criteria for judgment. Do we have the best oil painting the world has ever seen? Italy would probably be a better candidate for that laurel, and that is only in the Western tradition. What about the best theater? England might have something to say. Indonesia would have to be in the conversation. What about the best curry? India surely must place above the U.S. China invented the noodle, gunpowder, and has an ancient history of painting and poetry. Japan has a history of martial arts, culinary mastery, and beautiful art. Who has the best football legacy? Not us. We call it soccer for crying out loud. The only way you can say that we are the best country ever is if you don’t pay attention to the rest of the world. Then, you might enjoy Tucker Carlson.

3.    When your boss is an algorithm. So much talk about algorithms these days. It is a wild conversation. Some people think that we have already lost the battle with AI. Personally, I think that you are only as indebted to algorithms as you decide to be. It is still a matter of choice. There is a steep learning curve to most arts, social media included. The digital realm has a lot of tricky things to navigate, but let’s not get carried away with how we view things.

4.    Fire-breathing dragon at California’s Disneyland caught fire over the weekend. This was probably super traumatic for the people in attendance, but what the heck was that an attraction for in the first place? Our fascination with danger is a real problem. Tigers are going to eat people if given the chance. Fire breathing dragons are going to cause destruction. It’s not hard to figure out that is a bad idea. But people want to let the algorithm be their boss, so its dumb logic of escalation is going to lead otherwise intelligent people into these compromised positions. The algorithm is not that smart. It certainly is not wise.

5.    Huge Rocky Mountain snowfall provides drought relief but causes flood worries. When it snows it floods. We are not equipped to divert that surplus water, so it is going to do damage when it could be doing good. That’s our fault. When are we going to stop playing victim to nature and start developing systems that work? Imagine a honey bee having problems like this.

6.    Rainn Wilson urges a spiritual revolution in his new book ‘Soul Boom’. How did Wilson become so successful in building his digital presence of positivity? It wasn’t by following an algorithm’s unspoken rules. He had a belief and he stuck to it. He’s also America’s favorite nerd, so that didn’t hurt. His character on the Office marked a turning point in the public perception of the ultra-smart. Dwight Shrute is one of the great characters of U.S. television and Wilson is taking that well-earned fame and turning it into something even better. Bravo Rainn!

7.    Biden has made it official — announcing his bid for a second presidential term. This decision seemed all but inevitable. Biden is infinitely better than Trump as a leader, so I’m not that upset, but it still is frustrating that the game of national politics seems to whittle down our options to the very old and the questionably equipped. We are suffering the effects of inflation, but I don’t blame Biden’s policies for that. It was Trump’s tax cuts. It was Bush’s tax cuts. It was the conspiracy between national politicians and the ultra-wealthy. It was the billionaires wining and dining spineless Supreme Court justices. It is corruption at the top that makes the country so unstable and dangerous for 99% of us. I don’t think Biden is a good choice, but he is so much less evil than the alternative it is wild.

8.    Fox News and Tucker Carlson have parted ways, the network announced. Tucker Carlson epitomized the smarmy privileged himbo of the Right. He was disingenuous, aggressively white supremacist, and his departure is a breath of fresh air. The leaked recordings of him revealing his true contempt for Trump were the real reason for his departure. Trump is the best thing for bad news that has ever happened. He single-handedly boosted the ratings for Fox News for a half a decade. There’s no chance that Rupert Murdoch is going to jeopardize his shot at another bumper crop with the petulant two-faced Carlson at the helm.

9.    Following the mass shooting in Dadeville, Ala., calls grow louder for gun reform. The most exhaustingly depressing topic in national news is the impotence of our public in the face of the gun lobby. There are more guns than people in this nation. The toothpaste is out of the tube. Gun reform is woefully inadequate to the problem of mass shooting. It worked in Australia, but they didn’t have 500 million lethal weapons in circulation. We are beyond insane in our gun culture, and if you want to look for the cowardice and mental illness that is plaguing us and causing our children to be unsafe in their schools, then look no further than the NRA and their sycophantic and imbecilic cohort of goons. We don’t just need gun reform; we need to change our mindset about gun violence. We should hold those organizations and manufactures of automatic weapons responsible for every shooting that happens. Every single time another shooting occurs, there should be protests. These groups are hiding in broad daylight with the shelter of law and order protecting them, but they are more dangerous to our culture than any cartel or nation that wants to do us harm.

10. Storytellers at a Los Angeles planetarium join the union representing Broadway actors. Where are the great philanthropists of today? We are living in a period of carcinogenic capitalism. The billionaires of today do not have the horse sense of the robber barons and industrialists of the past. They at least had the decency to build libraries and art museums, to endow organizations for the arts and culture. We have a bunch of bums with money, power but no class. Our wealthy class are an embarrassment to world culture. The people who make our culture great are struggling to put food on their plate, meanwhile the nerds with billions are building rocket ships and looking like fools. One hopes that eventually these new money morons will read a book that isn’t a self-help tome and will see their precarious place in history. We have only had one revolution and it was against the British who were far away. That doesn’t mean we won’t have another one to reform this situation at home. Till then, God save the unions.

11. Maryland created a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to rein in prices. Three cheers for common sense! Policy that protects the people is primary to a healthy democracy. If we are not going to provide healthcare for all, the least we can do is prohibit the profiting off price gauging by the corrupt and cynical demons of pharma. Our leaders are worried about Mexican cartels, while the families who developed the drugs that started the opioid epidemic in this country are vacationing around the world with impunity. Hypocrisy at its lamest.

12. 5 things to know as E. Jean Carroll’s civil trial begins against Donald Trump. I don’t need to know anything to know that Donald Trump should be sued into oblivion. He should have every dollar stripped from his name and then he should serve the rest of his days in prison. I don’t care how “funny” he is or how charismatic he may be on stage. The man has used our nation as a shield from the law and to steal and launder more money than is imaginable. He is one of the worst crooks in history, I’ll give him that. Biggest crook in history! Keep comparing yourself to Nixon you historically ignorant kook.

13. Thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have died in the battle for Bakhmut. Meanwhile war rages on in Ukraine, on the edge of Russia with almost every country involved. This is already a World War in everything but name. The entire world is involved whether they are openly acknowledging their part in it or not. Putin must be stopped. He should be arrested and imprisoned for the rest of his life. His war crimes must stop and a return to global stability is imperative. Putin is also personally responsible for global inflation and economic hardship. He is not just invading Ukraine, he is taxing the world’s resources, justifying the production of arms, and robbing from humanitarian projects attempting to address real human needs. Why? He wants a legacy. Pride born from ego is the path to hell.

14. Record is set in Utah for the largest Dungeons and Dragons game ever played. That sounds like a wild event. So many multisided dice hitting the tables at once it must have felt like a small temblor. Anyone who is using their imagination instead of resorting to violence is ok in my book. More games, less lames.

15. Feinstein dilemma: California voters consider whether the senator should retire. All due respect to the senior California-based legislator, but this is becoming another story of not knowing when to pass the baton. Feinstein is already cemented into history and will receive more praise and commendation if she steps down and allows someone younger to take up her legacy. It is easy to say from the outside, but you don’t become a public servant for personal reasons. At least, one hopes there is a larger interest involved. It is understandable when you have a president as old as Biden announcing another bid. Our government is not representing the people very well, and that must change. The constituents should demand more.

16. Warring factions in Sudan have agreed to a temporary truce. This is good news for the people in Sudan. The hospitals hopefully will have a chance to resume their work and to resupply their stock. This is a time to flood the nation with aid, to give them as much support as is safely possible. The agreement is only temporary, but perhaps they will come to a more lasting resolution.

17. If Congress doesn’t raise the debt limit soon, the U.S. risks defaulting. Kevin McCarthy must be one of the most embarrassing politicians in our history, and that is saying a lot. Playing chicken with the debt limit is the kind of low-level negotiating that only the most corrupt and uncaring politicians would attempt. Putting our entire nation at risk to score political points is beyond irresponsible. Maybe that is why it took over a dozen elections for this man to gain his position as Speaker of the House. Have you no shame? Obviously, he does not.

18. Wellspring Health Access is Wyoming’s only clinic to provide surgical abortions. Why in the world are people fixated on other people’s business? They complain about the economy and ask who is going to pay for social services? McCarthy threatens to block raising the debt ceiling sending us into default unless critical social services are slashed, and then at the same time his party is pushing to make abortion illegal. The illogic of these people is infuriating, but likely it is smokescreen to hide their corrupt backdoor dealings. Get the people riled up with emotional issues so they don’t follow the money into your secret accounts. Typical U.S. political grift at its finest and the people are the ones who pay in blood and tears.

19. Singer, actor and human rights activist Harry Belafonte dies at 96. Sometimes it seems impossible that all these things could exist together. Driving my daughter home from dance class I see Hell’s Angels on the roadway. How does our culture contain such innocence and violence in the same system? Harry Belafonte was one of the good guys. Spreading joy and a message of equality through his work, he was a national treasure and I hope that his legacy inspires more people to take the path of goodness.