Interesting Reads Week of December 23, 2018


I have been quite taken aback by the pushback that President Trump has received on his proposal to remove US troops from Syria.  I get that his motivation for doing so does not match mine but… what is the goal here?  Why is the US there?  What is the end-game?  What does “success” look like? What are the metrics?

Winter moon, Davis, CA 2018

It bothers me more than a little that in all the years I worked in public health around the world, the US government DEMANDED an evidence-based approach, careful monitoring, and regular reporting on our efforts if we were to obtain funding.  I never see those demands placed on military intervention.  An Atlantic article force us to confront the reality of our endless wars and what they bring. Conor Fredersdorf notes and asks:

Still, many now say that the United States would be betraying our allies if we leave. It’s reasonable to ask, given the positions of Congress, the president, and the public: Who took on that ostensible obligation on the nation’s behalf? What gave them the right to do so?

Andrew Bacevich writing in the American Conservative comes at this whole thing in a different way asking why the Neo-Cons are wringing their hands over inattention to “alliances” when they were so willing to trash such alliances when they were not getting their way.

To drive the point home, Sanger recruits Robert Kagan, who obligingly chides President Donald Trump for treating allies as “freeloaders who can go to hell if they don’t get on board.” 

Treating allies with disrespect is no doubt a terrible thing. Yet not so very long ago it was Kagan and his fellow neoconservatives who were telling allies unwilling to get onboard to go to hell. The moment was the run up to the Iraq war.

To that I would add: What are the true ends the US is trying to achieve there… or in other wars in which people continue to die for reasons that are entirely unclear.  To the question of “ends” Matt Gallagher adds this:

But when questions like “How long?” and “How many?” and “What’s the objective?” get swallowed up by a defense industry that essentially answers with, “We’ll handle it,” it’s no wonder that the American citizenry doesn’t engage with its military much beyond surprise homecomings at football games.

And the lack of clarity about ends must, inevitably lead us right back to… Iraq.  But not the Iraq of the Trump visit.  Another Iraq.

Remember that one?  Ben Taub hasn’t forgotten, and his article on the cycles of revenge that the US military unleashed in that land is almost too hard to read.  Read it anyway.


Just one here but the title alone–No, Donald Trump Is Not Leaving Us Poorly Prepared for the Next Recession–should entice a read (coming as it does from Dean Baker).  But lest you think Baker has gone too far, check out this pretty classic summary of his views (emphasis added):

The point is that if we want to do a full accounting of the government’s debt then we better add in the increased cost for a wide range of goods and services due to the monopolies the government has granted. My crude calculations put these in the neighborhood of $1 trillion a year, or roughly one quarter of the federal government’s current tax revenue.

Of course our deficit hawks never do this. This can be explained by the fact that they either don’t understand economics, which is a good reason not to listen to them, or they are simple not honest, which is also a good reason not to listen to them.

To be clear, large tax cuts to corporations, so that they could give more money back to wealthy shareholders in the form of buybacks and dividends (yep, giving money to shareholders through dividends is no better than buybacks) is not a good use of resources. It means the rich get to spend more money at a time when we should be focusing resources on green infrastructure and energy conservation.

In this sense, the Trump tax cuts leave us less well-prepared to face the future. But as far as being prepared for the next recession, sorry folks, you don’t have an economics case.

The politics are another matter. We know that the tax cut loving Republicans will all become huge deficit hawks the next time Democrats are in power. We should not be in the business of assisting their efforts to undermine the economy.


Okay, this is not a typical topical area for these brief posts but perhaps it should be.  In my view (and I speak as someone who, as an elected official, had a front row seat on local civics), we are a graceless society.  So… grace deserves some attention and Peter Wehner provides it:

When I recently asked Jonathan how, as a nonbeliever, he understood grace and why it inspires us when we see it in others, he told me that grace is “some combination of generosity and magnanimity, kindness and forgiveness, and empathy — all above the ordinary call of duty, and bestowed even (or especially?) when not particularly earned.” We see it demonstrated in heroic ways and in small, everyday contexts, he said. “But I guess, regardless of the context, it’s always at least a little unexpected and out of the ordinary.”

Please read this to start your 2019.


And I leave you with a quote from Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism by Sheldon Wolin (a post-Iraq-invasion reflection):

Two crucial consequences of the Cold War upon domestic politics contributed major elements to the power imaginary evolving from the conflict.  One was the shrinking place occupied by politics and the enlargement of state power.  The growing dominance of foreign policy and military strategy altered the scope and status of public participation. Public officials, experts, and pundits were quick to declare these to be privileged subjects where partisan politics should defer to national unity and experts should be decide among themselves. The second development was intimately connected with the priority of foreign policy and military preparedness: the emergence and legitimation of elitism, of a political class, “the best and brightest.” (p 39)

Food Security and Poverty: Definitions, Measures, and Data for Davis and Yolo County


Michael Bisch, Executive Director of the Yolo Food Bank has provided valuable information on the state of food insecurity among Davis and Yolo County residents herehere, and here.  Still, very few people know exactly what food insecurity means, how it is measured, and what it correlates with.  Is food insecurity the same as “hunger”?  What, if any, is the relationship between food insecurity and poverty?  How do we understand the meaning of statements like “twenty-five percent of children in Davis schools qualify for free or reduced lunches”? And what does having a large university in our City mean about estimating levels of food insecurity and poverty?

The following is an attempt to lay out the definitions of these terms, the sources of the data and the overall implication for understanding food insecurity in our city and county. We will look specifically at the National School Lunch program eligibility criteria and rates for Davis; the Yolo County and City poverty levels derived from the American Community Survey (Census Bureau); and estimates of food insecurity provided by the organization Feeding America, the University of California and UC Davis (the latter two for students only).



In the US, the Census Bureau uses a set of money income thresholds that vary by family size and composition to determine who is in poverty. The thresholds are based on a method developed in the early 1960’s by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration.

The thresholds she defined were based on what families needed at the time to purchase an “economy food plan” from Department of Agriculture studies and used before tax income since that was the data that was available. No other adjustments to income were made such as taxes paid or the value of government transfer or income support programs.

She assumed that families spent about one third of their income on food but did not derive calculations for expenditures on non-food items. She simply multiplied the cost of the economy food plan by three and then adjusted it for different household sizes (and a few other factors).  She expressed the opinion that the resulting thresholds would yield a conservative underestimate of poverty. (see Fisher (1992)  for a brief summary of her method.)

Despite modest changes over the years, the Orshansky method still underlies the calculations of the official poverty threshold.

Given the limitations of the official poverty measure, the Census Bureau has developed an alternative “Supplemental Poverty Measure” (SPM) that includes additional information on both taxes and government transfers.  The Orshansky’s method is 100% food-purchase based and does not vary across the US: the same thresholds are used everywhere. The SPM, on the other hand has different thresholds by state and accounts for non-food purchases—including housing—to estimate poverty. This Infographic provides a useful snapshot of the differences between the official poverty measure and the SPM.  Note these two maps from the Infographic:

SPM Joined

Using the Orshansky model 13.4% of Californians are in poverty. Using the SPM about 19% are in poverty. Housing costs are thought to be a main explanation for the difference.

The Census Bureau uses the annual American Community Survey (ACS), a large sample of US households, to collect information on and estimate the population parameter of percent living in poverty at county and city levels. The SPM data produces only state level parameter estimates. We will examine data from each below.

Free and Reduced-Price Meals

When you see or hear about data on “free and reduced prices meals” the data refers to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).  The NLSP is a federally assisted meal program that has been in operation since the immediate post World War II period.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the Program at the Federal level. In California, the NSLP is administered by the state Department of Education.

The goal of the program is to provide free and reduced-price lunches that are nutritionally balanced—with the nutritional composition determined by the FNS/USDA.

Qualification for the NLSP is based on the official poverty measure and the USDA annually produces income threshold tables for different household sizes to determine which students are eligible. Reduced price lunches are eligible to those at 185% of the federal poverty threshold and free meals for those at 130% of the federal poverty threshold.  Reduced prices lunches cannot cost more than 40 cents per meal. Children in households that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits—known as CalFresh in California, Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) benefits, or children who are recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—known as CalWORKs in California are automatically eligible for free meal benefits. (Different threshold tables are produced for Hawaii and Alaska). (See the NLSP fact sheet for a summary).

Food Security

Unlike the Census’ official poverty measure, the SPM, or the NLSP qualification criteria, the definition and measurement of food security are not standardized.  A very good source of information on the concept of food security is the comprehensive literature review by Jones et. al. (2013). The review states that

(t)he most commonly used definition of food security is based on the definition from the 1996 World Food Summit: Food security, at the individual, household, national, regional and global levels [is achieved] when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

The authors helpfully distinguish often-interchanged concepts such as undernutrition, hunger, and nutrition insecurity, defining each in its turn. The following diagram is adapted from their article and from prior work by Benson (2004)—with my own additions—and helps distinguish these terms.

Overlapping Concepts Nutrition Food Security

Most helpfully, for our purposes, they discuss in some detail the three key elements of food security—availability, access, and utilization, with a fourth, the idea of temporal changes in any of the three, to provide a richer understanding of what food security is.

The diagram below, drawn from the paper illustrates the important role of access—both physical and economic—to assuring food security. Drawing on the foundational work of Amartya Sen (1981) the authors conclude that, contrary to conventional wisdom, food availability (physical presence of food in a nation or region) is rarely the deciding factor in food security. Rather, people’s ability to obtain or access the food that is available is the key.  Further, intrahousehold dynamics, and access to other health promoting behaviors and services are important factors in how accessed food is actually utilized by individuals.

Food Security Pathway

The authors concur that examining food security at the household level makes most sense, even if it hides certain intrahousehold factors that may change an individual household member’s ability to utilize the food in the household.

After laying out the key definitions the authors review a variety of ways that food security is measured or assessed around the world.  Some of these are based on national level food balance sheets or more complex ways of assessing macro-level “security” and I will not discuss them further.

The tools that have gained the most attention locally—via the UC Davis food security analysis, that I will discuss in more detail below—are largely derived from the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) that was developed based on research initiated by Present Reagan’s Task Force on Food Assistance in the mid-1980s.

The HFSSM, and a variety of tools that have come from it, uses an 18-question survey module that asks respondents their experience in four domains:

1) anxiety about household food supplies;

2) perceptions that the quality or quantity of accessible food is not adequate;

3) reduced adult food intake; and

4) reduced food intake by children

Based on responses, households are classified as either food security, having low food security, or very low food security (see the publication Household Food Security in the United States in 2017 for details on how these classifications are made). More streamlined questionnaires with fewer questions have been developed (and validated) to more rapidly assess food security.

The table below provides the current questionnaire used in the Current Population Survey (CPS)1.  Note the additional questions used in the case of households in which children are or are not present.  The bolded questions are used in a short-form of this survey, which has been validated (see Blumberg et al (1999)) as a reasonable means to more rapidly assess food security.  Questions 1-4 and 6 and 7 were used in recent University of California and UC Davis assessments of food security among students discussed below.


Food Security Questions

The publication Household Food Security in the United States in 2017 referenced above provides extensive information on food security in the United States and discusses, among other things, its chronicity versus its transitory nature in subgroups.  Space does not permit a full analysis of the results and caveats here but the paper is highly recommended.

As we will see below, these scales have been shown to operate as relatively reasonable proxies for poverty in a variety of studies around the world.  Conversely, poverty measures are often used to derive local-level estimates of food (in)security.

Data for Davis and Yolo County

With these definitions in mind, we can now turn to examine data for Davis and Yolo County


Data on Davis and Yolo County is accessed at

Note that data presented in what follows are from the American Community Survey using “5- year estimates”—The 5-year estimates from the ACS are “period” estimates that represent data collected over a period of time. The primary advantage of using multiyear estimates is the increased statistical reliability of the data for less populated areas and small population subgroups. The ACS also has extensive information on the precision of estimates (margins of error) that I will not get into here.  Suffice to say that data for subgroups available for the City or County are less precise because of sample sizes.

Official Poverty

As a reminder, the official poverty rate for California as a state is 13.4% but the SPM estimate puts the rate at 19.0%.  There is general agreement that the official poverty rate underestimates poverty in California for reasons discussed previously.

In the next section, we will examine limitations of these official estimates as they concern university students and suggest some possible adjustments.

Free and Reduced-Price Meals

Data on the proportion of students in Davis and Yolo County who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals is accessed at

This data comes from the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, which is longitudinal data system used to maintain individual-level data including student demographics, course data, discipline, assessments, staff assignments, and other data for state and federal reporting.

The following presents the data in tabular and graphical form—the latter by Yolo County School District.  Note that the lowest eligibility percentage is from Cesar Chavez Elementary School in the Davis Joint Unified School District.  The highest eligibility percentage for schools with over 40 enrolled is from the Westfield Village Elementary School in the Washington Unified School District in West Sacramento.

FRPM Table


FRPM Graph

Food Insecurity

As noted, measuring food security is more challenging and local-level estimates are not directly available from the data collected.  The USDA’s Household Food Security in the United States in 2017 estimates that 11.2% of Californians are food insecure with 4.1% experiencing very low food security.  The margins of error lead to the conclusion that food insecurity in California, as a state, is lower than the national estimate (significant at 90% confidence level).

The non-profit Feeding America (see publishes online maps with estimates of food insecurity for each county in the US.  Their publication: Map the Meal Gap 2018: A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecurity and County Food Cost in the United States in 2016, lays out the full methodology they use model county estimates from national data on food security and, as we discuss briefly below, it uses income, employment and other demographic factors to estimate food insecurity for each county.

According to Feeding America, approximately 14% of Yolo County residents are food insecure with 79% of those falling below 200% of the official poverty threshold.  This means that over 29,000 Yolo County residents are food insecure according to their model.  See for these estimates.

(Note that they use a higher population figure than the ACS and thus percentages yield different estimates of numbers.  Keep in mind that the ACS numbers we used were 5-year estimates, not accounting for population growth as the Feeding America data does.)

In addition to these estimates, the University of California, Davis produced its own report of food insecurity among students based on the work of the Chancellor’s Task Force on Student Food Security. As part of the Task Force work, which looked not just at food insecurity but also University programs addressing it and recommendations for other programs that might help, a survey went out to over 7,000 randomly selected students with 376 responses.

The survey used a reduced form of the Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) discussed above and found that 44.1% of students experience low or very low food security and that 22.3% experience very low food security.  Assuming responses were random, the 90% confidence level for these estimates is about +/- 4%.

The UC Davis survey has similar findings as a broader University of California-wide survey using the same method from 2015.  That survey, cited in the Task Force report, found that 42% of students, university-wide have low or very low food security.

Poverty Measures—The Effect of Large University-Student Populations on Estimates

The official definition of poverty in the ACS does not easily tease out the fact that college students may be classified as “poor” because they are not working and have no visible “income.”  As a result, the Census Bureau has proposed a simple method to completely remove them from local poverty calculations.  Students living in dorms are currently not countered in the official poverty count but those living in the community are captured in the ACS.

As demographers at the University of Virginia’s Demographic’s Research Group note in a recent Census Brief (2016):

Most college students report very low incomes, putting them below their respective poverty thresholds and—especially in cases of large off-campus student populations—raising the rate of poverty in the towns where they live. Yet, intuitively, we recognize that college or graduate student “poverty” means something different than poverty among the unemployed, families with children, or the persistently needy.

In most cases, the removal of students does not change the estimates of the proportion of the population living in poverty, but as the authors argue, in University towns such as Davis, with a large student population living within the city, the presence of students who may be only transitorily poor can lead to confusion about the true level of persistent poverty and cloud decision making about the best ways to deal with it.  Please note that students living in dorms are NOT counted in the ACS methodology so the data covers students living in the community.

As noted, the methodology is straightforward and involves simply removing all graduate, professional, and undergraduate students from poverty calculations.  The following screenshot from the ACS “FactFinder” data source shows the way data for Davis is presented and what is pulled out in the calculation of non-student poverty rates.


ACF Student Calculation

Applying this methodology to Davis and Yolo County yields the following results.  The Davis non-university-student poverty rate is 9.35%. This implies that about 4000 Davis residents, excluding university students, live in poverty.  For the county (including Davis), the non-university poverty rate is 12.3% or just under 20,000 people in poverty.

The problem with the Census Bureau approach is that is simply removes all students from calculations.  This, despite the fact, that some students ARE poor, notwithstanding family or other support.  As we demonstrate briefly below, food insecurity does stand as a proxy for poverty (and vice versa).

With this general principle in mind, if we add back in the university population and assume in Davis and county-wide that 44% of students are poor as estimated by the food security survey—low and very low food security (rather than the official poverty rate), then the Davis poverty rate is 21.5% or just under 14,000 living in poverty. For the county (including Davis) the adjusted rate is 18% or 35,581 in poverty.

While these adjustments may be considered too liberal, they do provide a means to add in truly poor students who, for whatever reason, are finding it difficult to provide for their basic food needs.  If we assume that only students who have very low food security are truly poor the poverty rates for both the City and the County are about 14%—with nearly 9,000 people in the City and 28,000 people in the County (including Davis) living in poverty.

To summarize:

Adjusted Poverty

Again, this approach does mix two sources and two distinct concepts: poverty and food security.  But as we have seen from the SPM estimates for California—and given Yolo County’s relatively high cost of living, these rates would seem to be realistic.

Food insecurity are inextricably linked.  So, we might derive a more robust estimate of poverty in Davis by integrating estimates of food insecurity into the poverty measurement.

Food Security and Poverty: Connections

It is interesting that in some instances, food insecurity measures are used as a proxy for poverty and in others poverty is used to model food insecurity at the local level.  This has to do, almost entirely, with the ease of measuring income poverty versus measuring food insecurity.

In many economically poorer nations around the world, collecting accurate data on income poverty is difficult because of the high percent of the population that works in the informal sector, outside wage labor, or in situations in which income taxes are collected sporadically or not at all.

In these environments, community-based surveys can rapidly collect data on household food insecurity. Indeed, in environments in which food insecurity is widespread, data collection may focus more specifically on hunger via household hunger scores.

Davis-based Freedom from Hunger (FFH—now Grameen—full disclosure, I worked for Freedom from Hunger 1999-2005 and 2007-2008) has been a pioneer in assessing household food security in resource-poor environments and assessing its relationship to poverty.  Freedom from Hunger has also developed tools to assess actual hunger scores in environments in which many or most households are food insecure.

FFH adopted a very simple food security scale based on four options:


I will read 4 choices for your response. Please tell me, which of the following best describes the food consumed by your household in the last year: 1) Enough and the kinds of food we wanted to eat.

2) Enough but not always the kinds of food we wanted to eat.

3) Sometimes not enough food to eat, was sometimes hungry.

4) Often not enough to eat, was often hungry.


Answer 1 = Food Secure

Answer 2 = Food insecure without hunger

Answer 3 = Food insecure with moderate hunger

Answer 4 = Food insecure with severe hunger

They conclude in an unpublished document

Grameen research has shown that this measure is correlated to dietary diversity, poverty, and women’s autonomy, resilience, among others. This gives Grameen confidence that despite the simplicity of the question, it can be a useful measure for identifying food insecure households due to these correlations with anticipated outcomes.

 The Household Hunger Survey gets more to the point about hunger with questions such as: In the last four weeks, did it happen that there was no food to eat of any kind in your house, because of lack of resources to get food?  This kind of survey is necessary in areas of widespread food insecurity to distinguish cases of extreme food insecurity.

FFH-supported research has demonstrated that a simple household food security survey can stand as a proxy for poverty.  As a paper by Melgar-Quiñonez summarizes:

(H)ousehold food security may serve as a high-quality proxy for expenditure as a predictor of household “income poverty”.

 In the USA, in contrast to FFH’s work, poverty measures become one element in modeling that helps estimate county food security statistics across the US.  In a methodological brief on how they estimate county-level food insecurity based on national-level data, Feeding America notes:

The food-insecurity model demonstrates the relationship between food insecurity and several indicators including unemployment and poverty.

As expected, after controlling for other factors, higher unemployment and poverty rates are associated with higher rates of food insecurity. A one percentage-point increase in the unemployment rate leads to a 0.5 percentage-point increase in the overall food-insecurity rate, while a one percentage-point increase in poverty leads to a 0.26 percentage-point increase in food insecurity.

And the Household Food Security in the United States in 2017, already referenced, notes the following:

Differences in food security across demographic and geographic groups reflect, in part, differences in income across those groups; though no adjustment is made for income in the statistics presented in this report, food insecurity was strongly associated with income. For example, 36.8 percent of households with annual incomes below the official poverty line (household income-to-poverty ratio under 1.00) were food insecure, compared with 5.8 percent of those with incomes at or above 185 percent of the poverty line (emphasis added).

Food security and poverty mirror each other.  Poor people are food insecure.  Food insecure people are poor.  When decisions about expenditures need to be made under severe constraints, food is the most “fungible” of purchases. Rent is required. Gas for the car to get to work cannot be “scrimped” on.  Not so with food.  When poor people face spending choices, food is foregone for the sake of survival. This seems to be true in Africa and America.

When you read that people are poor, keep in mind that poverty has real effects on their ability to obtain nutritious food in quantities that most of us take for granted. And when you read that people have low or very low food security, remember that it means that they face choices that most of us do not have to make.

Tens of thousands of our neighbors in Yolo County live in poverty—with food insecurity a part of many of their lives.


References and Sources Cited

American Community Survey (Census Bureau) “FactFinder” page for data on the ACS:


Benson, Todd (2004) Africa’s Food and Nutrition Security Situation: Where Are We and How Did We Get Here? International Food Policy Research Institute, 2020 Discussion Paper 37. Accessed at 


Bisch, Micheal (2018):


Blumberg, Stephen J., Karil Bialostosky, William L. Hamilton, and Ronette R. Briefel, DrPH, RD (1999) “The Effectiveness of a Short Form of the Household Food Security Scale” American Journal of Public Health.89:1231-1234.


California Department of Education, Student Poverty FRPM Data


Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Matthew P. Rabbitt, Christian A. Gregory, and Anita Singh. 2018. Household Food Security in the United States in 2017, ERR-256, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service


Fact Sheet: Differences Between the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS ASEC)


Fact Sheet National School Lunch Program:


Fisher, Gordon M (1992)The Development and History of the Poverty Thresholds” Social Security Bulletin, Vol. 55, No. 4, Winter pp. 3-14


Grameen Foundation (2018)Measuring Food Insecurity


Jones, Andrew D., Francis M. Ngure, Gretel Pelto and Sera L. Young “What Are We Assessing When We Measure Food Security? A Compendium and Review of Current Metrics” Advances in Nutrition4:5, 1 September 2013, Pages 481–505


Map the Meal Gap 2018: A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecurity and County Food Cost in the United States in 2016 (2018)


Measuring America: How the U.S. Census Bureau Measures Poverty (Infographic accessed December 2018)


Melgar-Quiñonez, Hugo (2004) Testing Food-Security Scales for Low-Cost Poverty Assessment Research Report. Freedom from Hunger


Promoting Food Security for UC Davis StudentsReport and Recommendations of the Chancellor’s Task Force on Student Food Security (2018)


Room, Annie and Luke Juday (2016) Poverty and postsecondary students in college towns. Census Brief, Demographics Research Group, University of VA. also:


Sen, Amartya (1981) Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation. New York: Oxford University Press.Accessed at











1. Fact Sheet: Differences Between the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey (CPS ASEC)

The ACS uses an up-to-date sampling frame (the Census Bureau’s Master Address File updated by using the U.S. Postal Service’s Delivery Sequence File and targeted address canvassing). Prior to 2014, the CPS ASEC used sampling frames derived once a decade from the Decennial Census (updated with new construction). Beginning in 2014, the CPS sample is derived annually from the Master Address File with updates from the United States Postal Service (USPS). Overall coverage for the ACS and the CPS ASEC appear to be comparable.

The ACS data collection methodology is substantially different from the CPS ASEC, as the CPS ASEC is conducted by interviewers via Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing (CATI) or Computer Assisted Phone Interviewing (CAPI). In contrast, the ACS uses a self-response mail-out/mail-back questionnaire with an internet response option, followed by CATI or CAPI follow-up conducted by interviewers. Additionally, the ACS, like the decennial long form, is mandatory, and therefore response at the unit and item level is higher in the ACS than the CPS ASEC



Interesting Reads Week of December 16, 2018


So the foreign policy cognoscenti are up in arms with the President’s announcement that he is removing troops from Syria and possibly drawing down the deployment in the ever-war of Afghanistan.  Horror! — and likely the only thing I have agreed with this man on since he was elected.

Korean War Memorial, Washington, DC

A torrent of ghastly revelations’: what military service taught me about America is, in the midst of all of this, “must” reading.  The mirror of war is not a place willingly gaze into but Lyle Jeremy Rubin does so, comparing his experience with meth addicts outside the base in the southwest with Afghanis he encountered.  He holds the mirror firmly for all of us when he writes:

At one level, our lack of interest in these people’s plight was to be expected. We didn’t sign up to help the stray or downtrodden. But according to the agitprop or many of our own self-rationalisations, this was precisely what we had volunteered for: we were supposed to be nation builders, culturally sensitive agents of humanitarian intervention, winners of hearts and minds. That we were nothing of the sort, even in relation to our compatriots, did not bode well.

Among conservative publications, only The American Conservative has taken a consistent position on the absurdity of US interventions abroad.  That absurdity is on display in the questions they ask about “defeat” in Afghanistan.  A defeat that they conclude may not be that bad…

Who wants to be the last man to die in Afghanistan amidst the weak rationales for staying? Who wants to see $100,000 missiles destroying $500 pickup trucks? Who wants to see Americans funding a billion dollar “ghost army,” which, though valorous, is being slaughtered to such as extent that the government withholds casualty numbers? Who wants to see American values corrupted and cheapened as we kill innocents in the name of fighting terror? Who wants to see America lose her morality by embracing theocratic despots who happen to buy our weapons, only to intentionally employ them on civilians?


Tis the season, I suppose.  Time to get those last minute tax deductions in place and make the world a better place (smell the cynicism…).  But wait, just think a bit about giving.  Here are some useful ideas if you are going to give (and despite my cynicism I think you should)

But THIS is the kind of giving I want to see.  Just when I had written off the entire “evangelical” wing of Christianity in the face of their en masse conversion to the god of America, I see this, and hope is, if not restored, at least coaxed from its long slumber.  We need more of this.

And this is simply encouraging.  An entrepreneur who has a commitment to ending hunger by bringing food to the deserts that have moved into our cities and rural areas.

Brown’s Super Stores turns the accepted wisdom about American enterprise upside down: its locations are not prime; its customers are not affluent. The company breaks the rules about how a smart business behaves, taking on problems far beyond its core business and outside its comfort zone. That’s when it becomes apparent that Jeffrey Brown isn’t ultimately in the business of selling groceries at all. He is in the business of ending poverty and its side effects. Building a successful grocery empire is simply the way he does that.

But then we also have to live with this and this–requiring people to work for food stamps (SNAP) and removing the ability of states to “bank” benefits against times of dire need (so much for resilience.  Sure, it will “save” us $15 billion.

That sounds like a lot but, if my calculations are correct, and because that $15 billion is spread over a decade this looks like a savings of about four one-hundredths of a percent of the national budget.  Hey, but if it gets those moochers off the couch I guess it will have been worth it.  If Congress wanted the Farm Bill to “save” that much they could have put it into the law.  They did not so why does the Administration get to make this policy change?


As a cyclist, pedestrian, and public transit user, I am happy to see this and have zero sympathy for the furious car owners.  Here’s why:

Yes, car owners are furious. That’s because they have mistaken their century-long domination over pedestrians for a right rather than a privilege. The truth is that cities are not doing nearly enough to restore streets for pedestrian use, and it’s the pedestrians who should be furious.


Catching up on some other writing (to be published here soon), left me less time to read so that’s it for this week.  I leave you with this from Ivan Illich–pointing out something that James K A Smith developed in its entirety in is book Desiring the Kingdom. The thesis is that we are not primarily thinking creatures but desiring creatures–formed to be who we are by what we DO–what we practice, what our “liturgies” are. This from an essay entitled “School” in The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich.

Read this with a question about the rituals you are part of (I am thinking of our “rituals of the nation: in which we participate)

Rituals, in other words, have an ability to generate in their practitioners a deep adherence to convictions which may be, internally, highly contradictory, so that somehow , the adherence to the belief is stronger than most people’s capacity to question what they believe.

Interesting Reads Week of December 9, 2018

Our Health

I don’t usually give a great deal of credence to the “best place to live”, “greatest places to retire”, or “hottest vacation spots” kind of articles, but this analysis from the US News and World Report on “Healthiest Communities” got my attention because the American Public Health Association (APHA) recommended it.

Bob Gibson 1972–a hero

The data used is publicly available and brought together to create pictures of health.  What would you add? What is missing from the analysis of “health.”


More and more people (including Republican Senator Ben Sasse) are writing about social dislocation, and, without using the term “anomie.”  This article by public theologian James K.A. Smith from May (I just got to it this week so it counts) begins with an important thought experiment and ends with a simple thing we we can do to overcome the epidemic of loneliness.  He quotes Marina Keegan from her book The Opposite of Loneliness:

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.

It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table.

Some of the loneliest people on our midst are those without homes.  Homelessness is a profoundly dislocating reality and this summary by the APHA in their newspaper The Nation’s Health lays out the power of the “housing first” approach to dealing with it.  Good, evidence-based, approach that we should seek to better understand.

And, perhaps it is time to ask the question of whether we can really call our nation healthy if our brothers and sisters living in rural areas find themselves ever more abandoned and without hope.  This Times article has stark (but beautiful) pictures, some powerful graphs, and a painful analysis that ends thus:

The distress of 50 million Americans should concern everyone. Powerful economic forces are arrayed against rural America and, so far, efforts to turn it around have failed.


I was summoned to jury duty this week and after a day and a half waiting to be called to answer basic questions about my background and my fitness for duty, I was booted from consideration by the DA before I could even get out of my chair.  I knew I would be.  I have been vocal in my criticism of the local DA.  But my criticisms is not without recommendations for change.  What do I want?  How about our DA putting into practice the 21 Principles for the 21st ProsecutorNow that’s what I am talking about.  From the Brennan Center for Justice.  Here is a GREAT start:

  1. Make Diversion the Rule
  2. Charge with Restraint and Plea Bargain Fairly
  3. Move Toward Ending Cash Bail
  4. Encourage the Treatment (Not Criminalization) of Mental Illness
  5. Encourage the Treatment (Not Criminalization) of Drug Addiction
  6. Treat Kids Like Kids
  7. Minimize Misdemeanors
  8. Account for Consequences to Immigrants
  9. Promote Restorative Justice
  10. Shrink Probation and Parole

And one of my FAVORITE topics!  Ranked choice voting.  My small city attempted to put this into place a few years back and it failed but Maine is doing it and Vox  has a nice analysis of what it is and what all the fuss is about from those opposing it.


I just have ONE article here because it is a long one and it deserves to be read.  Krugman has been calling Ryan a charlatan for some time.  Klein lays out a prosecutor’s case.  I can’t decide if is a long con or just incompetence paired with a powerful PR staff.

But more important than the differences between Ryan and Trump are the similarities. Yes, Ryan is decorous and polite where Trump is confrontational and uncouth, but the say-anything brand of politics that so outrages Trump’s critics is no less present in Ryan’s recent history. How else can we read a politician who rose to power promising to reduce deficits only to increase them at every turn? Or a politician who raked in good press for promising anti-poverty policies that he subsequently refused to pass?

Let’s Call it “Liberalism”

I will, no doubt, be writing a fair bit more about Patrick Deneen and his book Why Liberalism Failed (and he is not talking about Democratic Party-style liberalism) in the weeks/months ahead.  But this piece about a recent Catholic confab on liberalism (always keep an eye on Catholics when it comes to political theory), is a stimulating read whether you share their theology or not.

And… it appears that Protestants are ALSO discussing Deneen.  Another nice conference summary, this one from Calvin College.  Pay attention to these debates please.  Even if you are not religious, they merit critical analysis and engagement.  If not liberalism, then what..?

And what has liberalism wrought?  How about Facebook for one.  The Guardian cuts right to the chase in “We all fell for Facebook’s utopianism, but the mask is at last being torn away.

The problem with Facebook isn’t malevolence, but something worse: utopianism. The company is defined by an unshakable belief in the power of “connectivity”, and characterised by the default instinct that problems are fixed with more tech.

I concur… (and from somewhere Ellul smiles and the Editors of The Economist frown).

And speaking of The Economist, how often do THEY write about morality?  But this perceptive piece (which is really about economic utility maximization choices and what rates to use to “discount” future value) challenges us to think about what informs our choices about responses to global climate change. I like this kind of article because it moves beyond the useless debates about GCC and forces us to come clean about our assumptions.

And, closer to home, my friend David Greenwald challenges our local privilege by asking who benefits from rejecting change in our community.  And lest you think he has erected a straw man, come to California and watch how all those oh-so-progressive types in the toniest most liberal (American-style politics liberals) erect barriers that would benefit genuinely needy folks.

Also on this kind of liberalism (what we used to call Cadillac liberalism), the story of T. M. Landry (a charter school in Louisiana) is extremely difficult to read.

T.M. Landry is an inevitable result of systemic injustice, of decades of school and housing policies designed to maintain white supremacy and punish the poor and working class. Part of what drives this system, and distracts from its horrors, is a myth in which we all participate: the American dream.

End Note

I close with a quote from Wendell Berry in the Essay “Going to Work” in Citizenship Papers (emphasis added):

To accept so wide a context, the disciplines would have to move away from strict or exclusive professionalism. This does not imply giving up professional competence or professional standards, which have their place, but professionalism as we now understand it has already shown itself to be inadequate to a wide context. To bring local landscapes within what Wes Jackson calls “the boundary of consideration,” professional people of all sorts will have to feel the emotions and take the risks of amateurism. They will have to get out of their fields, so to speak, and into the watershed, the ecosystem, and the community; and they will have to be actuated by affection.

Building (Local) Social Infrastructure to Face Global Climate Change

This post is based on a paper I co-wrote with Eric Sarriot for the “CEDARS Center” in 2010.  We wrote it as a discussion paper for the Global Health Council meeting that year entitled Hurry Up Slowly—Building Social Infrastructure as Adaptation to Climate Change in Developing Countries.
Obviously, from the title, we were thinking about adaptation to climate change in economically poorer nations and regions.  While that was our focus, I believe that our summary of climate change scenarios, adaptation strategies, and the importance of building “social infrastructure” to create resilience are important for any community that is thinking about climate change adaptation. 
Because we were focusing on economically poorer areas of the world, our “lens” for examining adaptation was food security.  The challenges of creating food security in these environments is different from what we face in Northern California, from where I write. For that reason, I will not focus on food security in this summary/adaptation of the paper, but more generally on the issue of social infrastructure—a concept that applies, I believe, to any community or region. However, given the increased economic disparities within my region (and across the entire US) that have become apparent in the past dozen years, a focus on poorer communities and vulnerable populations concerns not just places in Africa (for example) but about our own back yard.
This post is the first to two to explore this issue in the context of adaptation to global climate change.  The second delves a bit more into three keys to creating social infrastructure in my nearby and uses the concept of “social sustainability.”


Three Global Climate Change (GCC) Scenarios

A reading of the literature on climate change—see especially IPCC 4th Assessment Report and the Global Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events: Understanding the Contributions to Infectious Disease Emergence (Pachauri and Reisinger, 2007; Relman et al., 2008)[1]—suggests three broad scenarios for how climate change will proceed. These are presented in the following table, along with a summary of their possible impacts upon food security and, more generally, health and human development.[2] Note that these impacts concern, especially, the most vulnerable populations.

Three Climate Change Scenarios and Their Potential Impact

Climate Change Scenario Potential Health/Food Security and Other Impacts
1. Progressive climate change

(e.g., shifts in mean temperatures and rainfall amounts, changes in lengths of growing seasons)


Probability profile:

Irregular (high variability) over short term; incrementally significant over long term.

a.   Loss of coastal habitats reduce some food production activities.

b.   Increased rainfall variability leads to decrease in water resources in some locations and decreases irrigation potential with reduced food production.

c.   Increasing temperatures in many locations lead to more demand for water for irrigation, thus leading to lower yields.

d.   Mitigation efforts drive up input costs, reducing agricultural productivity.

e.   Change in range of infectious disease vectors.

f.    Increase in respiratory illness due to changes in air quality.

g.   Increased conflict due to resource competition

h.   Increasing temperatures lead to heat stress on animal and fish stocks, reducing fertility and increasing mortality.

2. Extreme events

(e.g., floods, destructive wind storms, droughts, climate induced fires)


Probability profile:

Already observable; increased frequency expected; limited predictability at more local levels. Likely for certain geographic profiles (lower elevation coastal areas, etc.).

a.   Heat-related deaths (heat wave).

b.   Deaths and injury (flood, fire, storms).

c.   Spread of infectious disease post-event (flood).

d.   Spread of pests reducing food production (flood following drought).

e.   Loss of cultivable land (flood/drought).

f.    Loss of water resources (drought).

g.   Heat-related stresses reduce cattle reproduction and increase deaths.

3. Threshold events or tipping points

(e.g., negative synergies with multi-system failures, seen through historic events such as massive loss of life in 16th century Mexico—reported in Global Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events)


Probability profile:

Unpredictable—High Impact

a.   Epidemics (cattle or human).

b.   Crop failure (large scale).

c.   Broad ecosystem collapse (leading to uninhabitable zones).

d.   Economic crash due to systemic and multi-system spiraling effects.

e.   Massive out-migration from affected zones.

f.    Conflict (violence) due to migration and resource scarcity.

While there is consensus that GCC will lead to an overall warming of the earth over time and that extreme events will increase along with these changes, there is great uncertainty about what the progressive changes will mean for individual nations or regions.  There is also uncertainty about the exact timing and location of the extreme events (with the exception of the effects of warming on coastal habitat and ecology, which can be anticipated with more certainty). Here in Northern California we see extremes of rainfall and drought and attendant problems that lead to the (seemingly) now-common phenomenon of catastrophic fires. Is this the “new normal?”  We do not yet know.

There is great uncertainty about the health and food security impacts of GCC. Again, while there is high certainty that extreme events will lead to decreases in food production in areas affected by them (Bloem et al., 2010; USAID, 2007; Metz et al., 2007), and there is the potential for increases and spread of infectious diseases,[3] how specific nations and regions will fare is poorly understood. Thus, while the potential for great changes in food production (for example) exist, and infectious agents and vectors could change, there is no current knowledge about the distribution and severity of these kinds of changes. The frequency of extreme events has already increased and is likely to increase further as the impact of GCC is felt. Once again, this overall trend is difficult to link to specific projections at regional and local levels, apart from specific geographic profiles such as lower elevation coastal areas.

Less is known about threshold events, although there is historical evidence (Relman et al., 2008) that these have been important throughout human history. In a hyper-connected world, a crisis in one human system can have negative synergies on other systems, with the risk of multi-system and catastrophic failure (i.e., multiple extreme climate events with crop failures and concomitant economic shocks, as well as violent conflict).[4]

Adaptation Strategies

A variety of factors can modify the effects of these changes/events in given areas and over time. These include, among others, economic growth or stagnation and population growth. While population growth rates are in rapid decline, population momentum ensures continued growth in overall population for the coming generation and beyond. The reality of the business cycle—amplified through highly integrated product and financial markets—also modifies the effects of climate change in complex ways given the link between economic growth (or stagnation) and research and development of new technologies that affect food production and the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases.

The challenges of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the continued growth of these emissions makes it clear that humans must prepare to face the realities of global climate change.  This lends urgency to thinking clearly about what adaptation will look like. The need to focus on resilience is growing. Indeed, the IPPC 5th Assessment Report focuses a large part of its discussion on mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change in much greater detail than the 4th assessment.  It defines adaptation generally as

(t)he process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In some natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects.

Smit and Pilifosova (2001) provide a more precise definition of adaptation.

Adaptation refers to adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change.

Their chapter provides an excellent review of the literature on adaptation, and I summarize only a few key points here:

  • Not surprisingly, “underdevelopment (and I would add, severe income disparity) fundamentally constrains adaptive capacity, especially because of a lack of resources to hedge against extreme but expected events.” Adaptive capacity is defined as building “the potential or capability of a system to adapt to (to alter to better suit) climatic stimuli or their effects or impacts.” This is also referred to as building Not surprisingly, “Activities required for the enhancement of adaptive capacity are essentially equivalent to those promoting sustainable development.
  • “Some people regard the adaptive capacity of a system as a function not only of the availability of resources but of access to those resources by decision makers and vulnerable subsectors of a population” and “the presence of power differentials can contribute to reduced adaptive capacity.”
  • “In general, countries with well-developed social institutions are considered to have greater adaptive capacity than those with less effective institutional arrangements—commonly, developing nations and those in transition.”

These points focus on a number of key elements related to the ability of communities to adapt to local manifestations of GCC—especially those that concern “underdevelopment and the need for social infrastructure.”

A World Bank report (2009) states:

Our combined experience suggests that the best way to address climate change impacts on the poor is by integrating adaptation measures into sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies… Many adaptation mechanisms will be strengthened by making progress in areas such as good governance, human resources, institutional structures, public finance, and natural resource management. Such progress builds the resilience of countries, communities, and households to all types of shocks, including climate change impacts…

In effect, this argues that building the social and institutional infrastructure of communities enhances their capacity to respond and is thus, in itself, the beginning of an adaptation that is intentional, anticipatory, long-term, strategic, and cumulative. The World Bank document is one of the few that attempts to estimate the global costs of adaptation to climate change and is useful in delineating “hard” and “soft” adaptation approaches.

  • Hard options involve acts of engineering such as river and sea dikes, beach nourishment, port upgrades, rural roads, irrigation infrastructure expansion, and improvement of health infrastructure and delivery systems.
  • Soft adaptation measures, on the other hand, might include things such as early warning systems, community preparedness programs, watershed management, urban and rural zoning, and water pricing. They rely on effective institutions supported by collective action. (emphasis added)

Adapting to risk scenarios has costs—some of which are estimated in the literature and others that are not. The World Bank authors, referring to hard options, put their cost “between 2010 and 2050 of adapting to an approximately 2oC warmer world by 2050 in the range of $75 billion to $100 billion a year.” No similar estimate is made for soft options.

While a number of authors (The World Bank, 2009; Ayers et al., 2009; USAID, 2007) acknowledge the nonnegotiable necessity of soft adaptation to improve human health and welfare, with or without climate change shocks, and to create conditions for effective hard adaptation measures, most of the climate change and health literature of recent years has focused (for partly justifiable reasons) on the need for new and hard strategies, and additional adaptation strategies and investments.

Soft options are probably addressed less frequently because they may be considered part of the underlying development requirements, as summarized by Ayers and others (2009):

Given that a community that is vulnerable in an existing climate is likely to be vulnerable to future climate change, it is not necessary to wait for climate change data to become available to start building adaptive capacity.

Soft adaptation strategies raise the baseline status of communities and will provide for easier implementation of solutions, to the extent they can draw on or expand traditional/local adaptation strategies. Hard strategies leave substantial gaps in terms of adaptation. They will be harder to implement without advances on soft strategies, which include the development of strong local decision-making structures or, to return to the language of the authors of the World Bank study, “empowered communities.” In a paper on community-based adaptation to the health impacts of climate change, Ebi and Semenza (2008) note the importance of what is needed in comparison to the current situation:

The focus has been on interventions that are the responsibility of national and state public health agencies. Although these interventions are critical, they will not be sufficient, even with optimal resources and engagement. Additional activities will need to be taken by individuals within their communities.

In reality, both hard and soft adaptation require local community action to assess needs, use information, and plan for responses. Assessment, information use, and planning can only be conducted in the context of strong and inclusive local institutions.

Developing Social Infrastructure for Adaptation (or Building Social Capital for Collective Action/Resilience)

For local actors to prepare for the effects of GCC requires strong “social infrastructure” or, what is commonly referred to as the formation of social capital

An examination of the social capital literature as it applies to community development in general (Woolcock, 1998) and climate change in particular[5] suggests that social capital development that builds adaptive capacity in the face of GCC and enables the implementation of hard and soft strategies requires the following: (1) information-based decision making; (2) multi-level decision making and coordination of action; (3) opportunities for lateral learning and sharing; (4) attention to equity not merely in ensuring that vulnerable groups are “beneficiaries” but that they are “around the table” at which decisions are made; and (5) conflict resolution mechanisms.

The Meaning of Social Capital

Ebi and Semenza (2008) provide a useful reminder of the meaning of social capital, describing it as “the potential embedded in social relationships that enables residents to coordinate community action to achieve shared goals, such as adaptation to climate change.” They go on to define briefly three well-known forms that social capital takes: bonding, bridging, and linking capital. Bonding capital enables communities to mobilize based on the deep relationships of trust that exist within largely homogeneous groups. Bridging capital refers to the resource for action derived from heterogeneous groups joining together to build relationships that bring capacities to the table that might be lacking within homogeneous groups. Linking capital concerns relationships that extend beyond community groups, connecting such groups to individuals and groups of power (for example the state in its various manifestations).

Elbie and Semenza note that all three forms of social capital are critical to enabling communities to adapt to climate change. Woolcock (1998), writing more generally about the role of social capital and development notes the same things and goes further, pointing out the challenges that exist if various forms of capital are lacking. His ideas join Ebi and Semenza’s (2008)—who make this argument explicitly in relation to climate change—when he notes that even high levels of bonding capital quickly reach a self-limiting role in development because homogeneous groups often lack essential skills and experiences to face the challenges of poverty. In addition, Woolcock talks about the problem of too little bonding capital, examples of which exist in post-conflict environments, where basic lack of trust within groups renders communal action difficult. My experience in local government also suggests that lack of “bonding” capital can also exist because local leaders’ egos or desire for personal gain can limit their willingness to reach across boundaries to foster collective action. For both groups of authors, finding ways to support the development of bonding and bridging capital is critical for local efforts—be they general development or adaptation to the local effects of GCC.

However, both also see the necessity of moving beyond these critical, local types of social capital to linking communities to those “in power,” also known as linking capital. Elbie and Semenza limit their consideration to the importance of linking capital, which is essentially about creating collaborative efforts between community groups and those in power (health, administrative, and political authorities). Woolcock concurs, calling this type of capital “synergy,” but goes a step further and notes that another type of social capital is critical to ensure useful “top-down” development efforts. He adds that credibility and capacity (technical and experiential) of state and civil society institutions are vital for top-down approaches to development in order to work and to effectively marry top-down and bottom-up approaches.[6]

I turn now to examine briefly certain specific elements critical of creating/mobilizing social capital.

Information-Based Decision Making

As the World Bank’s The Costs to Developing Countries of Adapting to Climate Change: New Methods and Estimates notes (2009), empowerment of communities requires that they have full access to climate-relevant information systems. In addition, the report states that “effective adaptation should build upon, and sustain, existing livelihoods and thus take into account existing knowledge and coping strategies…” This obviously does not deny the role of professionals, technicians, or experts, but resets the focus of expertise toward the production of actionable information.

Taken together, these two points indicate the importance of collecting and using relevant climate information and the experiences of local adaptation to enable decision making about current and future adaptation needs. The keys to information use for decision making include both its routine and consistent collection and processes that allow people of varying education and experience levels to use it.

All societies have ways of adapting to climatic (and other) shocks and while most writers agree (Tompkins and Adger, 2004) that the challenges of adapting to future climate change lie outside their experienced coping range, learning of and adapting these coping mechanisms will be critical to ongoing adaptation efforts. Bhattamishra and Barrett (2010), though not writing in the context of GCC, provide a useful summary of community-based risk management actions (CBRMA) illustrating how they exist in many places. Other studies cited in their paper illustrate the vast array of strategies used—often in the context of climatic shocks.

Given the foregoing I would propose that local information systems include these three elements at least:

  1. Community diagnosis (to identify current coping mechanisms).
  2. Community-based information systems.
  3. Ongoing multidimensional assessments, from institutional assessments—to build credibility (Orobaton et al., 2007)—to more comprehensive monitoring of the delivery and results achieved by basic social services.

The tools for collecting information at local levels meet with professional-cultural reluctance for their implementation, but they are well established and proven to be workable at the district level. What is less clear is, again, how to develop processes to enable emerging groups to analyze and then use data to make decisions; more work needs to be done to create these processes. Despite this challenge the key will be to develop routine data collection systems and to consistently, over long periods, help groups meet to analyze data and progress toward goals (see below).

Multi-Level Decision Making

The foregoing assumes that information will be used in ongoing ways to make decisions about community challenges related to GCC, and that the processes so developed will build the adaptive capacity of communities. The idea of multi-level decision making is merely another way of talking about linking capital or synergy.

What specific structures are needed? Tompkins and Adger (2004) argue for a model that operationalizes Woolcock’s (1998) concept of synergy in the form of “co-management,” which they link to the idea of “networks of engagement,” which give people access to power and representation. Quoting Ostrom (1990), they state:

Co-management is one form of collective action whereby resource stakeholders work together with a government agency to undertake some aspect of resource management. Collective action in this context is the coordination of efforts among groups of individuals to achieve a common goal when individual self-interest would be inadequate to achieve the desired outcome.

Tompkins and Adger go on to acknowledge that “inclusive institutions and the sharing of responsibility for natural resources go against the dominant hierarchical institutional forms of most governments throughout the world.” They do, however, provide examples in their article of where co-management is working.

What this implies is that the specific form of synergy must involve private actors (communities) working explicitly with government agents to develop adaptation strategies (starting with a response to current food security challenges). The same authors speak of the need to “cement localized spaces of dependence.” This echoes the longstanding research of Kurt Lewin on how the formation of new groups enables significant behavior change by members.

Opportunities for Lateral Learning and Sharing

The issue of lateral learning concerns bridging capital and, perhaps, provides an answer to the question: Where does one start the process of co-management? Bridging capital is a necessary but not sufficient condition for increasing adaptive capacity of communities. It is important for moving beyond the limitations of bonding capital—especially in the face of the local manifestations of GCC—but requires linking capital to move toward realistic solutions to poverty and GCC’s effects.

Lateral learning could begin by focusing on information sharing about the state of knowledge on the probable effects of climate change (acknowledging the great uncertainty that exists at national and local levels). In a sense this concerns bringing various communities together to discuss current development challenges and consider the need for strengthened structures now and in the future.

Beyond this, forming networks should catalogue already existing adaptation strategies that groups use to adapt to risk. Bhattamishra and Barrett (2010) provide a useful summary of community-based risk management actions illustrating how they exist in many places. One challenge they acknowledge—and that could offer a second stage of questions for local groups to deal with—is the problem that most CBRMAs don’t work well in cases of broad co-varying risks—the kinds that are going to be common in GCC-induced events. Thus, emerging social structures should be enabled to both critically examine local adaptation strategies that could be useful models, but also consider their limitations and the opportunities to build relationships beyond them.

Lateral learning sends a strong message that local experiences are valuable and that solutions can be found within the local setting while acknowledging that GCC could introduce events that go beyond the capacity of the strategies that have evolved. Because it explicitly seeks to build bridging capital through joint learning, it provides a good foundation and starting place for discussions on the role of policymakers within the state. Thus, bridging capital builds community capacity to engage in its own advocacy vis-à-vis the state.

Attention to Equity

While the social capital concept provides a useful understanding of the value of different groups coming together to do that which they could not accomplish alone, it does not deal directly with the issues of exactly who is involved in creating the bridging and linking forms of capital. This raises the issue of equity and representation. Thomas and Twyman (2005) ask explicitly about the voices that are heard and the issue of the inclusion of traditionally excluded groups in decision making bodies. They articulate the concept of equity in relation to climate change adaptation processes this way:

Therefore equity in the context of climate change outcomes ought to be much more than simply ensuring that the vulnerable are treated fairly and buffered from unduly bearing the burdens of impacts. It should relate to a wide range of issues including: decision-making processes—who decides, who responds; frameworks for taking and facilitating actions; relationships between the developed and developing world; and also to relationships between climate change impacts and other factors that affect and disturb livelihoods.

While they are not addressing directly the issue of bridging and linking capital, they are talking about creating new “social spaces” in which decisions about what to do about GCC at the local level can be debated. They point to the need for these spaces to “retain principles of equity and social justice” at their core. They conclude by pointing out the need for careful facilitation of the process: seeing a role for outsiders in asking questions and guiding debate about who should be around the table. The idea of outsiders playing this role is echoed in a manual on “people-centered” advocacy (VeneKlasen and Miller, 2007), which focuses not just on getting community issues to the table but “enlarging” the table to include more voices, especially those that are traditionally un- or under-represented.

Thus, efforts to create bridging and linking capital should not only consider the various kinds of networks that need to be developed but also ensure that “the poor” are not merely referred to in terms of being “beneficiaries” but also included around the decisionmaking table in tangible ways. This points to the need for intentional longstanding processes to ensure greater participation of all groups.

Conflict Resolution Mechanisms

A final point related to the development of the social infrastructure required to enhance community adaptation to climate change concerns the need, within actions that focus on creating bridging and linking capital, to set up mechanisms to deal fruitfully with conflict. I focus on this for two distinct reasons.

The first reason that conflict resolution skills will be necessary is because one of the effects of GCC is expected to be heightened tensions and conflicts over scarce resources. Nearly all the literature on GCC points to this seeming inevitability, with some arguing that even mean temperature changes are likely to lead to more conflict in local settings (Burke et al., 2009). This implies that the creation of new social spaces will be done, increasingly, in the context of ongoing conflict among participants. Thus, it will require skill to both create the spaces (creating safety for groups in conflict so they can come together) and to deal with conflicts that will arrive once people come into them.

A second reason why these skills will be necessary concerns the issues of power and equity, raised previously. Building trust, overcoming fear, and enabling decision making within groups in which power imbalances exist requires an attention to how power is being used to silence or exclude, to name it and to address it. These issues are often overlooked by program evaluators guided through technical expertise, but with attention are found to play an essential part in the sustainability of social development efforts (Sarriot and Jahan, 2010; Sarriot, 2002).

The fields of conflict transformation, adult education, and team building contain a variety of tools and processes that must be brought to bear to enable these groups to organize and move ahead. The existence of external facilitators that will bring new perspectives and approaches to newly forming groups will be an important element of external support to local adaptation efforts and should be a priority for donors.

Building Social Infrastructure

In considering these points it is clear that an investment in social infrastructure will be a long-term process and require a significant amount of process facilitation in many local communities around the world. As Ebi and Semenza (2008) note: “Preparing for and effectively responding to climate change will be a process, not a one-time assessment of risks and likely effective interventions.”

So where do we begin? How do we start to think about how to actually build this infrastructure?

There are few fully formed models that address all these issues comprehensively, especially for the creation of linking capital at the local/regional level, but there are a multitude of sectoral projects and programs that provide demonstration that such approaches can work in addition to a substantial learning basis.

Despite the lack of many practical implementation approaches, there are several critical points that should must be part of any efforts to develop bridging and linking capital.

Focus on Information for Decision Making

As noted previously, the local collection and use of primary data—both qualitative and quantitative—must form the basis for building decision networks. In fact, it is an oft violated rule that the only data worth collecting are to guide decision making. The specific kinds of information to be collected should be prioritized but also negotiated in each setting to ensure maximum relevance. The food/livelihood security approaches provide a useful starting place for answering information needs, including by more aggressively obtaining local information.[7]

This returns us to several points raised earlier about who should be around the table, the size of the table, and the role of participants. There is a need to explicitly focus on equity issues in forming groups and inviting participation.

Experience has shown us that power imbalances in groups must be acknowledged and managed appropriately. If decisions are to be made that represent the needs of all participants, then appropriate processes must be in place to ensure that. Building facilitative capacity that includes tools to raise voices and deal with conflict will be critical to ensuring that it is not merely the voices of the powerful that are incorporated into the decisions.

Time, Consistency, and Unity of Purpose

Time is a fundamental ingredient widely mistreated by project approaches. Some learning and key processes build and solidify over time, while projects are frequently operating on start-stop modes, which bear substantial opportunity costs in terms of human development (Shediac-Rizkallah and Bone, 1998; Witter and Adje, 2007). A review of Noraid health sector development projects argues that less successful and less sustainable projects are more likely to receive longer funding (Catterson and Lindahl Claes, 2003).

Time in itself does not suffice to ensuring progress in the building of human resiliency; two related concepts are essential and have received substantial attention in the management literature, but surprisingly little in the development and climate change literature:

  • Unity of purpose refers to multiple actors focusing on common goals, which can be made possible by the creation of social space and information systems discussed previously.
  • Consistency of purpose refers to maintaining focus and commitment to key issues over time. The world of development is notably falling short on this fundamental principle. Some exceptions are obvious, such as national immunization programs and recent efforts to bring ITN technology to the fight against malaria. At the local level, however (think district and below), both national and international actors can be involuntarily disruptive. This is most easily demonstrated by the absence of actionable information at those local levels of interaction with communities (Sarriot et al., 2008; Davis et al., 2009).

Clarity of Outcomes

The development of social infrastructure is not for the sole purpose of preparing to react to the effects of climate change. It is essential for communities to respond to changes of all kinds. Initial efforts to create social capital should focus on two distinct outcomes:

  • As noted previously, initial bridging capital efforts might focus on creating learning about adaptation strategies already in place to face uncertainty.
  • Initial data collection efforts and decisions should focus on identifying levels and then trends in community vulnerabilities with an eye to setting targets and developing plans to reduce then. With data on these issues in hand, and with an analysis of the meaning and classification of “vulnerability” in the community, emerging groups can develop plans to reduce it in the short to medium term.[8]

These outcomes are of immediate relevance: build a knowledge base, bring people together, and focus on using information to create plans based on locally available resources. Over the longer term the development of the disciplines of data analysis will lead to an ability to respond to the effects of GCC. Thus, focusing on today’s needs prepares the way enhanced adaptive capacity tomorrow:

  • A community active in examining information and making decisions to enhance its own welfare will be far better positioned to examine climate variability data, surveillance information, and evidence of climate impact on crop, health, and livelihood.
  • As basic health, livelihood, and human development indicators over time improve, the physical condition of communities will also position them to be more resilient to the shocks of climate change.


No one trying to tackle the complexity of Global Climate Change believes in rapid, simple, and easy fixes. One might argue that the culture of easy fixes is partly to blame for anthropogenic climate change. By reviewing the literature available to date, and mapping out scenarios for impact of GCC on local communities, as well as types of adaptation processes (or lack thereof) that can be promoted in these communities, there are three salient ideas, which should guide new efforts to build adaptive capacity/resiliency at local levels:

  1. Poor social infrastructure represents a source of insecurity and inadaptability.
  2. Even context-specific, hard adaptation strategies will be hindered in their effectiveness and impact in the absence of effective development processes focused on soft adaptation—which include the development of social infrastructure.
  3. In the face of uncertainty, progressiveness, complexity, and randomness of GCC threats, sustainable adaptation processes should emphasize the building of a responsive and capable social infrastructure. Proper respect for time as a factor of social processes, unity and consistency of purpose demonstrated through appropriate local information systems and metrics, and equity in bringing stakeholders around decision making processes will be central to these efforts.



[1] Please refer to the original document for a full bibliography

[2] The IPCC 4th Assessment address “likelihood estimates” for some of these, but virtually no statements of this kind can be made for individual regions or nations—let alone at the sub-national level, which is the focus here. However, the potential impacts listed here are broadly supported by climate change modeling activities. The problem, as noted in the Global Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events document, is that there are many pitfalls in extrapolating climate and disease; and other relationships from one spatial level or temporal scale to another.

[3] The literature (Relman et al., 2008) notes the following in relation to infectious diseases: overall increase in burden (consensus), but case-by-case it is hard to predict; shifts in the distribution is an almost certain outcome; shifts will be affected by acceleration in prevention and control measures.

[4] Risk Management “Science” has made forays into the public consciousness through recent publications, such as The Black Swan: The Impact of Unprobable Events (Taleb, 2007), which provides useful discussions on management of the risks of unpredictable system failures.

[5] I draw primarily from numerous authors for these concepts (Ebi and Semenza, 2008; Thomas and Twyman, 2005; Tompkins and Adger, 2004).

[6] These concepts in the literature echo some of our own experiences. Examples of bridging capital, for example, come from the world of microfinance in the idea of rotating savings and credit groups or federations of credit groups. Linking between community groups and decisionmakers was at the heart of remarkable and, to a high extent, sustainable achievements of an urban health project of Concern Worldwide in Bangladesh (Sarriot et al., 2004; Sarriot and Jahan, 2010). Both linking and bridging social capital were at play in projects evaluated, namely of Save the Children USA in Guinea (Sarriot, 2006) and through the Living University model.

[7] The Rapid Household Survey Handbook (Davis et al., 2009) provides a useful starting place for developing quantitative information collection methods. Other tools exist for qualitative methods, including Participatory Learning and Action—PLA (Freudenberger, 1999). Community-based monitoring systems and surveillance (nutritional and epidemiological) all have their set of challenges but have been implemented successfully in a number of settings.

[8] More detailed discussion of metrics and their production is required but can be informed by recent literature (Devereux et al., 2004).

Interesting Reads Week of December 2, 2018


If you don’t read anything else linked to below, please, at least read When in Gotham by Eric Miller at “Front Porch Republic.” Miller puts his finger on something that has bothered me in the discussion of the movement towards nationalism, and the (merited) critique of globalization: does the movement (be it Brexit or Trump’s crude

What Autumn Brings, Northern CA 2018

protectionism) really represent a departure into a new economics or merely a more local version of the corporatization of the world that lessens freedom for everyone, everywhere. Miller writes:

A corporate state of nationalist dimensions and a corporate state of internationalist dimensions may in fact be a difference in kind, but not the kind of difference likely to ease the democratic spirit… But as the passing decades have shown, we cannot stop (because we’re unwilling to stop) the growth of the corporate state. What we can do is seek to start, and re-start, forms of authentic growth within it.

Now, THAT is a call to resist! Take five minutes to read this piece.

A theme taken up by Dean Baker quite frequently in his Beat the Press blog, is the question of why the Federal Reserve of the United States is so afraid of inflation. Baker often argues that because of its fixation on inflation, and its seeming finger-on-the-trigger use of interest rate increases to tame it, the Fed essentially reigns in economic growth and job creation.

In my reading, Baker is almost alone in “beating” this particular drum. It is interesting, therefore, to read this review in The Economist of Paul Volcker’s memoir. Here is an extended quote with my highlight of the key take home:

Mr Volcker’s intuitive approach to monetary policy often seems as influential as the academic orthodoxy his tenure helped inform. He worries that economists favour reforms that would free central banks to court higher inflation during downturns. Although many do, central banks have very conspicuously declined to make such changes. They would view years of above-target inflation as a dangerous threat to their credibility, and easing policy in the face of such inflation an unforgivable sign of weakness. But years of below-target inflation in the aftermath of the global financial crisis did not generate a corresponding panic. Indeed, the Fed began raising interest rates while inflation remained below its target, unfazed by the risk that this would undermine public faith in its ability to boost the economy when the next recession strikes.

Mr Volcker writes that, time and again, governments accept “a little inflation” only to find themselves beset by spiraling prices. But the more time passes, the more the 1970s look like an inflationary aberration book-ended by decades of modest inflation. Inflation is a danger, but one among many. It is the strength of Mr Volcker’s character that deserves emulation rather than his response to a specific, bygone set of economic circumstances.

The USA (A “truth-challenged” nation)

I don’t generally like Rod Dreher. He is a conservative Catholic with a SERIOUS dislike for Pope Francis and views on immigration and cultural change with which I simply disagree. But this article, in which he quotes another well known Catholic writer (Ross Douthat of the New York Times) is astonishing in its brutal honesty about Donald Trump and other elites. A sample:

(W)henever I hear of some new vile thing that Trump is alleged to have done, I just shrug. I expect him to be a criminal, in a way that I never would have expected any other president to be a criminal. And the Republicans in Congress have barely tried to rein him in. After he goes, it’s going to be hard to restore respect to the presidency.

The rest of the article delves into the parallel moral universe other elites in this country live in. It is not easy to read.

We have a truth problem in this country. And not just for the reasons that Dreher cites in his short piece. The Economist, this week, lays out the truth about the grifters around the current President.

One theme from the hundreds of pages of indictments is that the people around the president lied frequently and easily, even under oath. It is a management cliché that culture is set at the top. That was true of the Trump campaign, too.

6091dd37-2e97-4389-a3ad-54ac3ad2cebdBut beyond the problem of “truth-telling” (or the lack thereof ) according to Shanto Iyengara and Douglas S. Massey lies the fact that we live in a post-truth society. Their particular point is about science and how scientist might respond in such a society. It does not break much new ground, but its example of how the immigration “debate” has been subjected to post-truth communication methods is engaging and informative.

(And on immigration… check out these six charts from the BBC)

This “post-truth” society is having an impact on our confidence in various institutions (though the continued trust in the military baffles me), according to research by NPR/PBS.5c09f16d-f4e7-43a7-ab8f-975b7131e5ee

Finally, Bacevich is back with a stinging critique of David Brooks’ solution to our current state of affairs. While not discussing the issue of truth telling, Bacevich lays out the case that a return to the “responsible conservatism” of the pre-Bush era is definitely NOT what this country needs. Indeed, Bacevich seems to argue that it is the kind of responsible conservatism that Brooks longs for that led to the rise of Trump and our current mess:

As for the dream of spreading global democracy, it has indeed received a fair trial. Yet to say that U.S. democracy promotion efforts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq did not work out is akin to saying that Bonaparte’s campaign to capture Moscow in 1812 didn’t quite pan out as he had hoped. Napoleon’s invasion of Russia yielded a disaster for France. So too with post-9/11 U.S. efforts to export democracy at the point of a gun: the results have been disastrous for the United States and for more than a few innocent bystanders.

Yet to this very day Brooks and other members of the conservative establishment refuse to confront the scope of that disaster. It has cost trillions and killed hundreds of thousands. It has destabilized much of the Islamic world.

Criminal Justice/Policing Reform

Heavy sigh here… It is truly sad when a bi-partisan piece of legislation the so-called “First Step Act” gets mired in the narrow political calculation of the Senate Majority Leader–a singularly grotesque individual who has waged a personal war against democracy and bi-partisanship. This New York Times editorial describes this calculus and the (probable) sad result of a bill that “aims at rationalizing federal sentencing as well as improving conditions for inmates and helping ease them back into society after prison.” 

Along with our inability to achieve meaningful criminal justice system reform, comes word (also published in the Times) of our retreat from appropriate local police oversight. In the week when my small town seated its very first citizen police oversight commission, we learn that the Sacramento County Supervisors have to play hard ball with a local sheriff to force him to stop locking the police auditor out of his office. And the Times piece shows how the federal government has retreated from its role in supporting local efforts to develop appropriate police accountability. Let’s continue to keep our eyes on this issue.

And… in case you were wondering, no, we did not always lock up immigrants and this Times (sorry for three here) article provides a history of the “bipartisan” effort over time that has led us to this point. What point? The point of treating asylum seekers as criminals. This abandonment of morality is well described in this useful historical analysis. As the author notes:

(I)n 1958 the Supreme Court, in Leng May Ma v. Barber, held that “physical detention of aliens is now the exception, not the rule,” pointing out that “certainly this policy reflects the humane qualities of an enlightened civilization.”


I close with quotes by Rene Girard and Jacques Ellul.

First Girard in The Girard Reader “Mimesis and Violence:”girard reader

Violence is discussed, nowadays, in terms of aggression. We speak of aggression as an instinct that would be especially strong in certain individuals or in man as a zoological species… Violence is also attributed by many economists to the scarcity of needed objects or to their monopolization by a social elite…

Imitation or mimicry happens to be common to animals and men. It seems to me that a theory of conflict based primarily on appropriate events mimicry does not have the drawbacks of one based on scarcity or on aggressivity; if it is correctly conceived and formulated it throws a great deal of light on much human culture, beginning with religious institutions.

And Ellul in Hope in the Time of Abandonment (written in 1972)

In the most pacified and guaranteed society which has ever existed, man is living in uncertainty and growing fear. In the most scientific of societies, man is living in the irrational. In the most liberal of societies, man is living in “repression,” and even hyper-repression. In a society in which the means of communication are the most highly developed, man is living in a sort of phantasmagoria. In a society in which everything is done to establish relationships, man is living in solitude…. It would seem that each advance nurtures its exact opposite in man’s living experience.

Interesting Reads Week of November 26, 2018

The following is a selection of interesting reads from this week. Not all were published this week but dates of publication should be apparent for each one.

Portion of Depression Era fresco, Coit Tower

War and Peace

My friend Lisa Schirch has written a very useful analysis of Peacebuilding in The State of Peacebulding 2018: Twelve Observations. Lisa has done a great deal of work in Afghanistan and has boldly chosen to work with the Department of Defense to advance peacemaking there and elsewhere.  That lends a great deal of credibility to  her statement:

Whenever we are engaging across communities – whether we are teaching about peacebuilding in military academies or hosting military generals giving keynote talks at peacebuilding conferences – we need to identify both our common ground, and our differences, including distinct peacebuilding goals, priorities, and values, and layout our ethical principles that guide such interaction.

The rest of the article is equally rich in analysis.  I highly recommend it.

While we are on the subject, of war, US Army Officer Danny Sjursen has this to say in The American Conservative article America is Headed for Military Defeat in Afghanistan:

The United States military did all it was asked during more than 17 years of warfare in Afghanistan. It raided, it bombed, it built, it surged, it advised, it…everything. Still, none of that was sufficient. Enough Afghans either support the Taliban or hate the occupation, and managed, through assorted conventional and unconventional operations, to fight on the ground. And “on the ground” is all that really matters. This war may well have been ill-advised and unwinnable from the start.


While it was broadcast in mid-September, current discussions of immigration should start with a listen to This American Life’s comprehensive look at the subject in Let Me Count the Ways.  Give it a listen!

The Pew Research Center does us all a great service with its analysis and report: U.S. Unauthorized Immigrant Total Dips to Lowest Level in a Decade. The rhetoric around immigration is designed to hide the reality of what is actually happening around the issue.  This is evidenced in the way the President continues to blatantly lie about the issue. The Washington Post analyzes this. IMG_0525

The Pew Report presents actual data(!) to help describe what is happening in relation to migration from Mexico and Central America.  Of interest is the following conclusion:

Increasingly, unauthorized immigrants are long-term U.S. residents. By 2016, an unauthorized immigrant adult had typically lived in the U.S. for 14.8 years, compared with a median 8.6 years in 2007.

And the truth about what is happening right now at the border is relayed in the final paragraph of this New York Times article.

Mexico is unlikely to host the migrants who are seeking asylum without some kind of guarantees from the United States because it does not want refugee camps on its northern border.

These are refugees, fleeing violence and despair…

But, again, if we “count the ways” that the current administration is trying  limit immigration–even legal immigration–we see how comprehensive and far reaching it is.  My day-to-day work with international students is increasingly challenged by realities like the one reported by Reuters:

But now the Trump administration is weighing whether to subject Chinese students to additional vetting before they attend a U.S. school. The ideas under consideration, previously unreported, include checks of student phone records and scouring of personal accounts on Chinese and U.S. social media platforms for anything that might raise concerns about students’ intentions in the United States, including affiliations with government organizations, a U.S. official and three congressional and university sources told Reuters.

U.S. law enforcement is also expected to provide training to academic officials on how to detect spying and cyber theft that it provides to people in government, a senior U.S. official said.

Public Health

Rate of Uninsured Children 2008 2017The title of the report from The Center for Children & Families (CCF), part of the Health Policy Institute at the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University, pretty much says it all: Nation’s Progress on Children’s Health Coverage Reverses Course

The Economist had an extended analysis of the change in suicide rates world wide. The good news is that they have gone down substantially just about everywhere over the past generation.  The exception?

America is the big exception. Until the turn of the century the rate there dropped along with those in other rich countries. But since then, it has risen by 18% to 12.8—well above China’s current rate of seven. The declines in those other big countries, however, far outweigh the rise in America…

(T)he main means of suicide in America is guns. They account for half of suicides, and suicides account for more firearms deaths than homicides do. Guns are more efficient than pills, so people who impulsively shoot themselves are more likely to end up in the morgue than in the emergency ward.

One can view our transportation choices as a key public health issue–and we should.  In the short term, our commitment to use of the automobile limits are mobility and exposes us to poor air quality.  In the long term (an actually already), these choices have direct impacts on climate change.  So this LA Times article is NOT encouraging

Californians driving more and GM closes small-car plants because Americans only want pick-ups and SUVs. We are going backwards.


I continue to analyze what exactly I was involved in during my years in international development.  Relying, as it did at least in part, on private philanthropy, I am always interested in reading about the current state of affairs in philanthropic giving. This New York Times editorial is part of an ongoing (and necessary) critique. 

There is a great deal of concern about the current American willingness (desire) to accept an authoritarian form of government. Most of the attention focuses on “the right” but The American Conservative summarizes the finding of recent research that shows how Hilary Clinton partisans seem to have this same bent.  This brings to mind a quote from literary critic Lionel Trilling…

We are at heart so profoundly anarchistic that the only form of state we can imagine living in is Utopian; and so cynical that the only Utopia we can believe in is authoritarian

And for those who are interested in learning more about Jacques Ellul this article that asks whether Ellul is “a prophet for our tech-saturated times?” is a great introduction to his thought.  Very accessible!

And I end with the final paragraph from a short but VERY perceptive essay by Joan Didion in her volume Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In the essay “7000 Romaine, Los Angeles 38” asks why we are so taken by men like Howard Hughes (or, in our times Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg, or… Donald Trump?).  After all, as successful as they are, they are definitely NOT the heroes we say we value… Here is Didion’s take:

There has always been that divergence between our official and our unofficial heroes. It is impossible to think of Howard Hughes without seeing the apparently bottomless gulf between what we say we want and what we do want, between what we officially admire and secretly desire, between, in the largest sense, the people we marry and the people we love. In a nation which increasingly appears to prize social virtues, Howard Hughes remains not merely antisocial but grandly, brilliantly, surpassingly, asocial. He is the last private man, the dream we no longer admit.

History At Our Door

(Or, Colonial Chickens Coming Home to Roost)

According to The Guardian (reported Thanksgiving Day), Hillary Clinton is “calling on the continent to send out a stronger signal showing they are ‘not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support’”.

Reading more deeply into her reasoning, she is advising this in order to stem the tide of right wing “populism” for which immigration has become the cause célèbre.

Let that rest in your mind for a moment: refugees–people desperately fleeing desperate places; people crossing oceans, vast deserts, and war-torn zones; people vulnerable to some of the world’s worst predators (human)–are the cause of right wing populism and, therefore, must be stopped from coming in.

1520563242744(I know, I know–most of these people are “economic” migrants. Not exactly “fleeing” just trying to benefit from the global north’s prosperity… Well of course they are. People everywhere and at all times have moved to improve their lives. But for people to go through what these people go through when they decide to move… Well, that tells you something about how distressed their current lives must be. And, no, they are not, as Mr. Trump has called them “criminals”. Criminals slip into countries, they do not charge fortified border fences. Only a certain kind of despair can lead to such reckless boldness.)

Interestingly, her recommendation, if not her reasoning, has been picked up by the nativists in our own land (not a pejorative term, simply a statement of what they are) who argue the same: we must close the doors.

Mr. Trump will claim “economic necessity” (America first, American jobs for Americans, etc.), while others who fancy themselves as much more “reasoned” on the issue will claim cultural or “identity” necessity: these people are not like us and they are changing us–changing our identity as a nation (these arguments are fairly mainstream and “respectable”).

And so we must turn them away.

One wonders when history begins for these folks. For Mr. Trump it’s clear, history began when he last opened his mouth. He has no sense of history, values it not at all, and, therefore, can choose its true beginning based on his mood.

For the others, the more reasoned ones, history apparently begin in the late 80s or 90s when the flows of migrants from the global south really took off across Europe and North America. That is when the problems started that have led us to today. What happened before that, what set the stage for all that human movement? Doesn’t matter. That is all pre-history.  As inscrutable as it is unimportant.

But for those for whom we should no longer provide “refuge,” history begins and runs through the 500 plus years since the northern states, who must now block them (according to Ms. Clinton, according to Mr. Trump), first entered their lands.

One must ask how much those “migrants” changed those lands, those peoples, those identities?


And it wasn’t just then–when the current nation states were still in flux with their own identity issues. It was all the time since then, up and through today. We (yes, I am part of this), have seen it as our right to create vassal states from where the “unsupportables” now come. We used their lands for our proxy wars when the fear and hatred of communism ran hot in our blood. From coastal Mogadishu, through then-Zaire, and on to coastal Namibia; from Nicaragua’s highlands to those of Guatemala and El Salvador; we armed the worst, “coup d’etated” the best, and generally played our global war in their dooryards. Or as Peter Gabriel sang: It’s games without frontiers–war without tears. 

It is not hyperbole to say that we caused these human flows. We have given plenty of aid there, but invested nothing. We have dispensed cures, but never healed. And the rich have gotten richer, and the poor have gotten cell phones.

And now history is at our doorstep.

Bowmansville, Baseball and Bob: Awakenings in a Small Town

I “awoke” to baseball in 1967. I say “awoke” because I can’t find another way to explain the sense that nothing existed in my life before 1967 (when I was 7) and that, at least for a time thereafter, baseball would so define the “necessary” of every waking hour. Growing up in a small town in south-central Pennsylvania (population c1000), baseball was, literally, the only game in town and if you lived in that town you were a Phillies fan. Except I wasn’t.

Sometime in 1967 my dad bought me my first glove—a lefty—after seeing me toss a small rubber ball against the steps going upstairs from near the front door of our house (he almost got me a righty but noticed I only used my left hand). And from the start I was a St Louis Cardinals fan. Why? Ronnie Sanger.  Ronnie was hands down the best baseball player in town. Two years older than me, Ronnie came from a “baseball family”. His brothers had had or would soon have tryouts with professional baseball clubs and they each made it to the lower levels of the minor leagues. In Bowmansville, my home town, that was a level of success that was unheard of. I idolized Ronnie Sanger. And sometime before Ronnie came into my conscious mind he had met former St Louis great Stan “the Man” Musial (Stan died on 19 January, 2013) at spring training in Florida. He got Stan’s autograph, fell in love with the Cardinals and, well, so did I.

But even though I awoke in 1967—and the Cardinals won the series over the Red Sox that year—it was not until 1968 that I really took notice of the team, its players and, especially a pitcher named Bob Gibson. I was a pitcher too and Bob Gibson was the most amazing pitcher of that era. In 1968 he won 22 games—not bad but, incredibly, he gave up a paltry 1.12 runs for every nine innings pitched (and in those days he pitched the whole game—he started 34 that year and finished 28—a feat unheard of today). He struck out 17 Detroit Tigers in game one of the World Series that year—a record that still stands.

Bob-GibsonI was crazy about Bob Gibson. He had a way of holding the ball behind his back before going into a full hands-over-head windup and flinging the ball towards home plate. I mimicked that motion every summer day as I threw a rubber ball relentlessly against the barn door in my backyard (though Bob was a righty and I was a lefty, as I said). It was always the World Series that summer (and several after that), and I (Bob) pitched a no-hitter every time out. I am sure there were a few times when I (Bob) struck out every single batter in the 7th game of the World Series.

Martin died that spring and I know I had a glove on my hand the day I heard about it. I was in the kitchen and that is all I remember. King (as he was known in our house) was a communist and his death left no imprint except that there was a sense of relief that his rabble rousing was finally over.

Also that spring, though I can’t remember exactly if it was before or after Martin Luther King’s assassination, I got a book about my hero Bob Gibson. Did I mention that Bob Gibson is black? Did I mention that I did not know any black people? Did I mention that I loved Bob Gibson?

Anyway, I got the book through one of those “Scholastic” book fliers that came home from school about once per month. My parents never said no to letting me get at least one book, and to my amazement sometime that spring included in the list was a biography of Bob Gibson! I think I read that book about five times the first week I had it and the black and white pictures of Bob Gibson in a little league team photo, then in the minors and then pitching for the Cardinals absorbed my gaze for hours on end.

But Bob Gibson’s biography was not just about his pitching exploits (which I had expected). It was about his life growing up in Omaha, his sickly childhood (asthma), and the shocking story of how the great Bob Gibson could not sleep in the same hotel room as his fellow teammates when he was coming up through the minors in the Cardinals’ organization. In fact, Bob Gibson told a lot of stories of how he was treated as a black man and how it was unfair (even an 8-year old could understand that). I remember being stunned and saddened but mostly confused. How could Bob Gibson be denied the same treatment as anyone else simply because he was black? It just made no sense.

And so, sometime in that spring and summer of 1968 I also “awoke” to something else: something about injustice (though that word was not yet available to my tongue), something about privilege (though I could not have imagined that such a thing really existed), something about race…

And in that small town—thanks in part to the confluence of baseball, Ronnie Sanger, the Cardinals and a great pitcher named Bob Gibson a different way of viewing the world took root.

Martin, I was born too late to know you for what you were when I was 8 years old. I was born in the wrong place to be able to hear and see what you were about. I was born in the wrong family to understand the power of your message. But I was born in Bowmansville and thanks to baseball and Bob Gibson I was given a window—a glimpse—into the challenges of racism and the hope that change might come. And I learned that the agents of change in our land might even appear wearing a baseball uniform.

To Bike… Perhaps to Dream

Yesterday I responded to a survey put out by “Strava,” a fitness app that I use to track my running and biking activities. The questionnaire drilled down into my “active” lifestyle and two questions, in particular, stuck out to me (paraphrased):

1. Do you like to run/bike in most of your free time?

2. Do you take vacations that are built around biking?

These were surprising questions, and ones I never really thought about, but my answer to both were “strongly agree” (they used a Likert scale for all questions). So… yes, I like to stay active, and if given the chance I will spend a weekend biking here or there and I run 4-6 days per week. I guess that makes me active.

So I thought I would write about three things that have made my biking/running possible no matter where I am. I am not into product endorsement so I apologize if it comes across that way but I am going to mention a few. I find that I want a few things when I am out for a ride:

First, I want to plan my ride before I go with some sense of how much climbing I will do, how far I might go, where I can start and where I can end. I need help planning my outings.

Second, I want to arrive in a place, arrange for a bike, and then benefit from the great rides that local cyclists, who know the area, consider to be the best ones.

Third, I want to find quiet places to run or ride when I get to a new location. And, per number one above, I want to plan some runs/rides that are low stress and use off road facilities.

Fourth, I am NOT a speed guy, but rather a “touring” guy. As a result, I don’t mind taking a few pounds of stuff with me (change of shirt, lock, snacks, pump, tube, multi-tool, etc.). I can’t put all that stuff on my person so I have always been interested about how to outfit a fast road bike with a simple kit that I don’t have to wear on my back (back packs are sweaty and uncomfortable

That’s about it…

Over the past few years I have found two apps and one piece of gear that help me do all those things.

“Ride with GPS” is the best bike trip planning app I have come across. It is mostly free but to use all its tools you can pay a small annual fee. I like it because it is quick and easy to use. It allows me to quickly plan rides and then provides decent (though not perfect) turn by turn directions for the ride. It does not do a good job correcting you if you get off course, but it is fine. But the best thing about it is that it lets you search rides within any distance of where you are. This is a great tool that opens up a world of local rides based on local riders actual rides. Even if you don’t choose the exact route they recommend, you can use their routes as a starting point to create your own.

Trail Link is the second app that has been a boon for my active lifestyle. It provides a comprehensive list of “rails to trails” and other trails in communities all across the US. It is an amazing app. You can download it for free and pay a small fee to download specific maps. When I say “comprehensive” I mean it. It includes trails as short as nine tenths of a mile and all the big long ones. If you log in to its online site it gives you updates on trail closures and other important things to know. If you blow into town and need a place to run, check out “Trail Link” first. It might have some great suggestions nearby.

These are my two, “go-to” apps, but what about gear? Having played with a lot of bags, backpacks, panniers, etc, over the past decade, I am ready to say that a decent seat bag it THE BEST option for day rides, and should be part of your kit for longer distance touring too. I am a big fan of Arkel (une entreprise Quebecois!) and their seat bags (in two sizes) are THE best I have found. The minimalist “hardware,” lightweight design, and waterproof feature (tested in a monsoon from Union Station in DC to Silver Spring, MD), make them the best bag I have ever had. I have a large one for touring and a smaller one for day rides.

So… that’s it. I would love to work with anyone interested in using these tools to enhance their vacations, trips, day rides, runs… Whatever. Let me know.