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 and 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.

Final Speech

Here is the final speech I gave as Mayor of Davis.  I gave it in French to the Board of Directors of Limagrain, a French seed cooperative with a local subsidiary named HM Clause.  I include the English and French versions here.

Think globally act locally. Perhaps in our days this aphorism, largely adopted by the environmental movement, has been so overused that it has lost all meaning. Penser globalement agir localement. Peut-être que de nos jours cet aphorisme, largement adopté par le mouvement environnemental, a été tellement surutilisé qu’il a perdu tout son sens.
Despite this, I would like to consider it today and, perhaps, rediscover the meaning the person who originally developed it had in mind about it. It is generally agreed that the person who coined this phrase was Jacques Ellul a French jurist, environmental activist, and theologian who wrote volumes on what he referred to as the problem of technique in our world. Malgré cela, je voudrais le considérer aujourd’hui et, peut-être, redécouvrir le sens que la personne qui l’a développé à l’origine avait en tête à ce sujet. La plupart des commentateurs seraient d’accord que la personne qui a inventé cette phrase était Jacques Ellul, un juriste français, activiste environnemental, et théologien qui a écrit des volumes sur ce qu’il a appelé le problème de la technique dans notre monde.
Ellul argued that society’s challenges can seem insurmountable because they occur within complex systems and that the only way to really face them was to seek locally adapted solutions to them.  He critiqued attempts to find global solutions for two broad reasons. Ellul a fait valoir que les défis de la société peuvent sembler insurmontables parce qu’ils se produisent dans des systèmes complexes et que la seule façon de vraiment y faire face était de chercher des solutions adaptées localement. Il a critiqué les tentatives de trouver des solutions globales pour deux grandes raisons.
First, he doubted that it is possible to solve problems of a global nature at a global level given the complexity of the systems that give rise to them.  And he believed that any attempt to do so could only lead to an over reliance on technique, which he defined as the attempt to find the one best way to solve each problem in a very narrow way. Premièrement, il doutait qu’il soit possible de résoudre des problèmes d’ordre mondial à l’échelle mondiale, compte tenu de la complexité des systèmes qui les engendrent. Et il pensait que toute tentative en ce sens ne pouvait conduire qu’à un recours excessif à la technique, qu’il définissait comme la tentative de trouver la meilleure façon de résoudre chaque problème d’une manière très étroite. Ce qu’il appelait « the one best way »
Second, he believed that reliance on technique leads to a focus not on the ultimate ends of the human endeavor but rather to an increasing focus on the means to accomplishing the ends. He stated the following in one of his earliest writing on the subject: Deuxièmement, il croyait que le déploiement de la technique conduit à ne pas se concentrer sur les fins ultimes de l’activité humaine, mais plutôt à mettre davantage l’accent sur les moyens d’atteindre les objectifs (mal-définis). Il a déclaré ce qui suit dans l’une de ses premières publications sur le sujet:
The first enormous fact of our civilization is that today everything has become means, there are no longer any ends.  We don’t know towards what we are walking.  We have forgotten our collective goals, we possess enormous means, and we put into action prodigous machines to go nowhere. Le premier fait énorme de notre civilisation, c’est qu’aujourd’hui tout est devenu moyen. Il n’y a plus de fin. Nous ne savons plus vers quoi nous marchons. Nous avons oublié nos buts collectifs, nous disposons d’énormes moyens, et nous mettons en marche de prodigieuses machines pour n’arriver nulle part.
Keep in mind that Ellul was writing in the immediate post-World War II world. The time when he and other writers such as Albert Schweizer and Ivan Illich lived had seen the incredible technical accomplishments such as the splitting of the atom turned to the end of destroying tens of thousands of innocent lives.  They were horrified by the deployment of these prodigious means without reference to the ultimate ends to which they should be deployed. Gardez à l’esprit que Ellul écrivait dans le monde immédiat après la Seconde Guerre mondiale. L’époque où lui et d’autres écrivains comme Albert Schweizer et Ivan Illich vivaient avaient vu les incroyables accomplissements techniques tels que la division de l’atome se transformer en la destruction de dizaines de milliers de vies innocentes. Ils ont été horrifiés par le déploiement de ces moyens prodigieux sans référence aux fins ultimes auxquelles ils devraient être déployés.
Ellul understood that our challenges are global and systemic, and so thinking globally was absolutely critical to understanding them.  But he very much doubted the efficacy of global solutions, ergo, act locally. Ellul a compris que nos défis sont globaux et systémiques, et donc penser globalement était absolument essentiel pour les comprendre. Mais il doutait beaucoup de l’efficacité des solutions globales, ergo, agir localement.
Today, I would like us to consider together “think globally, act locally” in relation to food. Aujourd’hui, j’aimerais que nous considérions ensemble «penser globalement, agir localement» par rapport à la nourriture.
What is the end we seek in relation to food; the goal, if you will, of our food systems? Quelle est la fin que nous recherchons par rapport à la nourriture ; l’objectif, si vous voulez, de nos systèmes alimentaires?
Is the end merely greater global food output?  Increased yields per hectare?  Greater efficiency of land and water use?  The widespread deployment of sustainable farming practices? The availability of robust and resilient seed varieties? La fin est-elle simplement une plus grande production alimentaire mondiale? Augmentation des rendements par hectare? Une plus grande efficacité de l’utilisation des terres et de l’eau? Le déploiement généralisé de pratiques agricoles durables? La disponibilité de variétés de semences robustes et résilientes?
Or is the end something more? Are these important things that I just named ends, or the means to something else? Ou est la fin quelque chose de plus? Est-ce que ce sont des choses importantes que je viens de nommer les fins, ou les moyens d’autre chose?
It is in considering the true ends of our food systems, I believe, that we begin to realize how critical it is to act locally. C’est en considérant les véritables fins de nos systèmes alimentaires, je crois, que nous commençons à réaliser à quel point il est essentiel d’agir localement.
For me the end we seek in relation to food are not merely greater output or increased yields but rather food security for human beings; our neighbors who live in our neighborhoods, in our cities and in our bioregions. Pour moi, la fin que nous recherchons par rapport à la nourriture n’est pas simplement une production plus importante ou des rendements accrus, mais plutôt la sécurité alimentaire pour les êtres humains; nos voisins qui vivent dans nos quartiers, dans nos villes et dans nos bio régions.
But we need to think globally about food security. We need to understand that food security is a complex matter that has as much to do with our nearly complete integration into global food markets as it does with our ability to grow food locally.  This is how we think globally about food and food security. Bien sûr, nous devons penser globalement à la sécurité alimentaire. Nous devons comprendre que la sécurité alimentaire est une question complexe qui a autant à voir avec notre intégration presque complète dans les marchés alimentaires mondiaux qu’avec notre capacité à produire de la nourriture localement. C’est ainsi que nous pensons globalement et à la nourriture et à la sécurité alimentaire.
Despite our integration into the global food system, I believe if we are to overcome the problems of food insecurity we must act locally.  Act locally, vis-à-vis any problem. Ellul never suggested it is a panacea, that it is straightforward to accomplish, that it is without risks. Malgré notre intégration dans le système alimentaire mondial, je crois que si nous voulons surmonter les problèmes d’insécurité alimentaire, nous devons agir localement. Agir localement, vis-à-vis n’importe quel problème. Ellul n’a jamais suggéré que c’est une panacée, que c’est simple à réaliser, que c’est sans risque.
Parenthetically, now that I arrive at the end of my mandate, I have come to understand just how much local government is, in fact, an exercise in decision making within severe constraints. Those constraints come from the reality that our local economy is inserted into a global economy. They come from the fact that many of the things that were required to do within our local jurisdictions are dictated to us by state and federal government. The constraints are fiscal and political, as well as environmental and social. Entre parenthèses, maintenant que j’arrive à la fin de mon mandat, j’en suis venu à comprendre à quel point le gouvernement local est, en fait, un exercice de prise de décision soumis à de sévères contraintes. Ces contraintes viennent de la réalité non seulement que notre économie locale est insérée dans une économie mondiale. Ils viennent aussi du fait que beaucoup de choses que nous devions faire dans nos juridictions locales nous sont dictées par l’État et le gouvernement fédéral. Les contraintes sont fiscales et politiques, environnementales et sociales.
Indeed, I often think of local action as working within the interstices of the possible. En effet, je pense souvent à l’action locale comme travaillant dans les interstices du possible.
Homelessness here in our city is a good example of this.  We have several hundred homeless people at any time living in and around our city. The causes of homelessness are extremely complex as we know. They have much to do with untreated mental health problems, substance abuse, and our inability to provide for physical spaces for people to live. All of these things are the result of many very rational and well-considered decisions that have been made over many years.Homelessness cannot be solved at the national level but here in Davis we have had and continue to have some important success because we confront it locally with a very relational approach to those living in the streets.  Our successes depend on us understanding the complexity (the global) but acting in the context of individual encampments around our city (the local). Le problème des sans abri ici dans notre ville en est un bon exemple. Nous avons plusieurs centaines de sans-abri qui vivent à l’intérieur et autour de notre ville. Les causes de cette réalité sont extrêmement complexes comme nous le savons. Ils ont beaucoup à voir avec les problèmes de santé mentale non traités, la toxicomanie, et notre incapacité à fournir des espaces physiques pour les gens à vivre. Toutes ces choses sont le résultat de nombreuses décisions très rationnelles et réfléchies qui ont été prises au cours de nombreuses années. Le sans-abrisme ne peut être résolu au niveau national mais ici, à Davis, nous avons eu et continuons à avoir un succès important parce que nous le confrontons localement avec une approche très relationnelle à ceux qui vivent dans la rue. Nos succès dépendent de notre compréhension de la complexité (le global) mais en agissant dans le contexte des campements individuels autour de notre ville (le local).
And so, in like manner I would argue that achieving food security requires local action.

The food system that is evolved in the United States over the past 50 years is a perfect example of the confusion of means versus ends. We have, arguably, created one of the most prodigious food producing machines that the world has ever known here in United States but in doing so we’ve created a brittle food system that over produces basic commodities and under produces a varied macro- and micronutrient rich diet for people. The results of these prodigious means are over processed food-like products (which are not really food at all), the consumption of empty calories, the overconsumption of refined sugars that lead to obesity, the precursors of diabetes, and general poor health.

Et ainsi, de la même manière, je dirais que la réalisation de la sécurité alimentaire nécessite une action locale.

Le système alimentaire qui a évolué aux États-Unis au cours des 50 dernières années est un parfait exemple de la confusion entre les moyens et les fins. Nous avons, sans doute, créé l’une des machines produisant des aliments les plus prodigieuses que le monde ait jamais connues ici aux États-Unis, mais nous avons créé un système alimentaire fragile qui surproduit des produits de base et qui sousproduit des macro et micronutriments variés qui donnes une régime riche pour les gens. Les résultats de ces moyens prodigieux sont des produits transformés semblables à des aliments (qui sont pas du tout de la nourriture), la consommation de calories « vides », la surconsommation de sucres raffinés qui mènent à l’obésité, aux précurseurs du diabète et à une mauvaise santé en général.

And despite the “success” of our system to produce more and more, we have not solved the problem of food insecurity in our nation, or even in our local region—one of the most productive agricultural regions on the planet. This is because our food system is focused on means and not ends

This is because our food system is focused on means and not ends

Et malgré le «succès» de notre système à produire de plus en plus, nous n’avons pas résolu le problème de l’insécurité alimentaire dans notre pays, ou même dans notre région locale, l’une des régions agricoles les plus productives de la planète.


C’est parce que notre système alimentaire est axé sur les moyens et non sur les fins

Fully 22% of children in this county live in households that are food insecure. From this reality, we have come to understand that food security is not merely a function of food availability. We see also that food security is a function of accessibility. Can people access sufficient quantities of quality food? And of course, food security is also a function of the body’s ability to utilize the nutrients people take in. The general poor health of members of our community impedes the uptake of nutrition within their gut. Au total, 22% des enfants de ce comté vivent dans des ménages en insécurité alimentaire. De cette réalité, nous avons fini par comprendre que la sécurité alimentaire n’est pas simplement fonction de la disponibilité de la nourriture. Nous voyons aussi que la sécurité alimentaire est une fonction de l‘accessibilité. Les gens peuvent-ils avoir accès à des quantités suffisantes de nourriture de qualité? Et bien sûr, la sécurité alimentaire dépend également de la capacité du corps à utiliser les nutriments que les gens absorbent. La mauvaise santé générale des membres de notre communauté empêche l’absorption de la nutrition dans leur intestin.
My point in all of this is to acknowledge that our food system does achieve certain means—notably the production of large quantities of food. But it does NOT produce the end of food security. Tout ce que je veux dire, c’est reconnaître que notre système alimentaire atteint certains objectifs, notamment la production de grandes quantités de nourriture. Mais cela ne produit PAS la fin de la sécurité alimentaire.
Well, at this point you might reasonably ask: What does all of this have to do with us today? To answer that I will return to a concept I developed when I had the privilege of inaugurating this site back in 2015.  At that time I used the image of a chain that links all actors in the food system to solve the problem of food insecurity. Eh bien, à ce stade, vous pourriez raisonnablement demander: Qu’est-ce que tout cela a à voir avec nous aujourd’hui? Pour y répondre, je reviendrai sur un concept que j’ai développé lorsque j’ai eu le privilège d’inaugurer ce site en 2015. A cette époque, j’ai utilisé l’image d’une chaîne qui relie tous les acteurs du système alimentaire pour résoudre le problème de l’insécurité alimentaire.
I like the concept of the chain because it shows a sense of temporal, geographical, and social connectedness. This chain has, as its end, the creation of food security.


So perhaps it begins at one end with fundamental scientific research into things like how enzymes can be used to increase yield, or to protect seeds, or to enhance certain characteristics of seeds to make them robust (research that is now carried out by several firms here in Davis). The chain continues to those who work within field testing to ensure the quality of the seed product. Other parts of the chain include production of food, harvesting techniques, food processing that preserves, nutrition education, cooking classes and others perhaps at the other end of the chain are those like my friend Michael Bisch who works for the local food bank distributing excess food to those in greatest need with the fewest economic resources.

J’aime le concept de la chaîne parce qu’il montre un sens de la connexité temporelle, géographique et sociale. Cette chaîne a, comme fin, la création de la sécurité alimentaire.


Alors peut-être commence-t-il par une recherche scientifique fondamentale sur des choses comme la façon dont les enzymes peuvent être utilisées pour augmenter le rendement ou protéger les graines, ou pour améliorer certaines caractéristiques des graines pour les rendre robustes (la recherche qui est maintenant effectuée par plusieurs entreprises ici à Davis). La chaîne continue à ceux qui travaillent dans le cadre d’essais sur le terrain pour assurer la qualité du produit de semences. Les autres parties de la chaîne comprennent la production de nourriture, les techniques de récolte, la préparation des aliments, l’éducation nutritionnelle, les cours de cuisine et d’autres à l’autre bout de la chaîne sont ceux comme mon ami Michael Bisch qui travaille pour la banque alimentaire locale qui distribue excès de nourriture à ceux qui en ont le plus besoins, vivants avec le moins de ressources économiques.

All of these together work as a chain linked from one end to the other from basic research to education to those that distribute food to the neediest in a way that enable us together to address the issue of food insecurity in our local situation. Tous ces éléments fonctionnent comme une chaîne reliée d’un bout à l’autre de la recherche fondamentale à l’éducation à ceux qui distribuent la nourriture aux plus nécessiteux de manière à nous permettre ensemble de résoudre le problème de l’insécurité alimentaire dans notre situation locale.
Limagrain, from what I can see models a commitment to this concept of the chain and in being a critical link in this chain in at least two clear ways. First of all in your very governance structure and the way you go about doing your business you bring different members of this chain—different links in the chain—together.  You combine researchers, with farmers, and those with business minds to try to create comprehensive solutions for your company that will enable you to produce high-quality products that can meet human needs for food. Limagrain, d’après ce que je peux voir, modèle un engagement envers ce concept de la chaîne et constitue un maillon critique dans cette chaîne d’au moins deux manières claires. Tout d’abord, dans votre structure de gouvernance et dans la manière dont vous menez vos activités, vous amenez différents membres de cette chaîne – différents liens dans la chaîne – ensemble. Vous combinez des chercheurs, des agriculteurs et des gens d’affaires pour essayer de créer des solutions complètes pour votre entreprise qui vous permettront de produire des produits de haute qualité pouvant répondre aux besoins alimentaires des humains.
But second you also demonstrate your commitment to our local food system and solving the problem of food insecurity locally by contributing excess food produced from your field trials to our local food bank that serves the poorest members of our community.  And in doing these things you demonstrate a deep commitment to dealing with the most vulnerable members of our local community. Mais ensuite, vous démontrez également votre engagement envers notre système alimentaire local et la résolution du problème de l’insécurité alimentaire au niveau local en fournissant de la nourriture produite à partir de vos essais sur le terrain à notre banque alimentaire locale qui dessert les membres les plus pauvres de notre communauté.
Yours is a company that is privileged to see and operate at the global while remaining linked to local action in many ways.  You understand not only how to increase yield sand productivity but you also enable our local community to solve our local food insecurity problems. Votre entreprise est privilégiée de voir et de fonctionner à l’échelle mondiale tout en restant liée à l’action locale de plusieurs façons. Vous comprenez non seulement comment augmenter le rendement et la productivité mais aussi vous participez avec notre communauté locale pour résoudre nos problèmes d’insécurité alimentaire locale.
We are honored to have you thinking globally but acting locally, with us, in our local food system. Nous sommes honorés que vous pensiez globalement mais agissiez localement, avec nous, dans notre système alimentaire local
We are honored that you have come here to be part of a local conversation on what it means to create food security. Nous sommes honorés que vous soyez venus ici pour participer à une conversation locale sur ce que signifie créer la sécurité alimentaire.
And we are honored that you’ve chosen our town to bring your workers, your expertise, and your generosity to help solve the problem of food insecurity. Et nous sommes honorés que vous ayez choisi notre ville pour apporter vos travailleurs, votre expertise et votre générosité pour aider à résoudre le problème de l’insécurité alimentaire
I am thankful that we are working to think globally but to act locally together. Je suis reconnaissant que nous travaillions à penser globalement mais à agir localement ensemble.
Thank you very much, and welcome to Davis. Merci beaucoup, et bienvenue à Davis.

Flo (a mother)

She stands by the sink creating or cleaning up after a creation

(usually sweet, always lovingly made)

A useless arm

(crippled by something we never understood–most people never knew)

Later, she speaks of unspeakable abuse

At the end, her mind struggles to understand

How the man before her is the baby she just bore (as she now remembers it)


She stands by the sink

Describing how privilege works without that word

How the rich screw the rest (without THAT word)

How nothing is given, everything must be fought for

When you are poor

When you are trash


She stands by the sink

Listening to the stories of the hobo

(Yes, that is what we called them)

The single mom, the divorcee, the one shredded by mental illness, the abandoned child…

The “other” (the otherized). And she just listens


She stands by the sink

Washing dishes.  And my daughter watches

The grandma who washes dishes

And who cries over a soul lost


She stands by the sink

Head spinning in prayer to an angry God

Who saved her man (and whom she can never abandon (despite the anger) because of that)


She stands by the sink

Steam creating that halo for a woman too good for a broken world.


She stands by the sink.


(I miss you mom)







My Ellulian Moment: Dialectical Challenges of Homelessness, and the Ends and Means of Addressing It.

If you have read or listened to me speak over the past 3-plus years, you know that a significant influence in my life is the French sociologist and jurist Jacques Ellul.  Ellul, who died in the 1980s was a prolific writer best known for his writing on technique, propaganda, money, and ethics. He was a Marxist Christian who embraced the contradictions between the two, believing that dialectic tension should not lead to “synthesis” but should remain as what it is: a tension. But that tension could and should form our approach to the world because it recognizes the complexity of the world and our approaches to dealing with it.*89-79-PB

In Ellul’s writing on technique, he frequently dealt with the tension that technique was both a normal part of human advancement as well as a power that had enslaved humanity in a pernicious search for “the one best way,” or the most efficient means to achieve something.  The problem, for Ellul, is that humanity’s quest for the one best way left us enamored with means but bereft of a clear sense of where we are headed (the ends).

He spoke of our deployment of prodigious means which enable us to hurtle full speed towards… nowhere.

An Uncomfortable Dialectic

I have returned to Ellul over and over in these times and pondered his thought and what it means for the problem of homelessness in our community.  First, I know any discussion of homelessness is replete with contradictory statements–I make them myself.  I will say that homelessness is not just about finding housing for people, even while I work to provide housing. I will say we must provide a “housing first” solution for people, even as I know many will not avail themselves of that housing. I will state we must solve the challenge of homelessness even as I acknowledge that we cannot end it.

These real tensions send a message to those with whom I speak that I really don’t have a clue about what is going on, that I lack a way forward, or that the problem is simply too big for a City the size of ours to deal with. At the limit, some view my statements on the challenges of and plans for dealing with homelessness as contradictory, inconsistent and even dishonest.

But, like Ellul, I have moved towards the conviction that these tensions cannot be resolved.  There is no synthesis to be found.  We must live with the contradictions and seek a way through them to change our current reality.

I understand these contradictions/tensions to be a function not only of the complexity of the problem itself but because the word “homeless” \does not lend itself to a consistent definition or description.  The tensions around homelessness exist because we have chosen to define a syndrome as a simple and simplistic identifiable outcome–people living without permanent shelter, a fixed address, or a known place to raise their heads.

The tension abounds because this “thing” is actually many things at once and so one can say almost anything about homelessness and it is probably true in at least one case.

But drawing on Ellul, I am choosing to remain within the tensions to better, more honestly, deal with the complexity, the multiple causes, the difficult results, the uncertain outcomes of our efforts to deal with it.

The “Ends” of our Efforts Related to Homelessness

Over the past few months–as discussions of programs to deal with the challenges of homelessness have spiked in our community, due to a proposal to use taxation as a means to fund services–I have heard many “proposals” about what the ends of our efforts should be.

These have run the gamut from providing “tiny homes” for all homeless people to doing what is necessary to make Davis inhospitable for anyone who is homeless.  The latter set of “recommendations” has been extremely troubling for me, both because dozens have written to me (often in anger) to suggest it, but also because it so profoundly dehumanizes the people who find themselves in this situation.

Letters in this vein often begin or end with some variation on “I am a tax paying citizen, why do you care more about someone who does not pay taxes (not demonstrably true), than you care about me.”  These letters go on to demand that I “take action” against these people but almost always include the caveat “don’t expect me to pay for it.”

To be honest, I am writing this piece today to deal with the grief I am feeling right now about all these emails and discussions.  I have gone through several stages of grief–including a persistent anger–but can’t understand what direction I am being given.  I have referred to this call as a call to “social cleansing” and I will stick with that for now because what I hear and perceive is a call to “move them along,” “get rid of them,” or “make them leave.”

But these statements have forced me to re-examine the “ends” I am trying to achieve in all the efforts I am supporting to deal with the problem. And while it may be far too vague for programmatic purposes, I have settled on the following as the “ends” statement of what I am trying to accomplish. I believe that the end

I believe that the ends of our efforts should be to “provide a homecoming” for those who are on the streets.  Providing a homecoming implies a “welcome back,” a “reintegration,” a “return.”  More than anything (and I want to be careful not to dehumanize the many people who find themselves in this condition) I see homelessness as a form of alienation: alienation from society, from healthy relationships, and ultimately (I fear) from oneself.

I am not going to say, as many suggest, that this alienation is a choice; or perhaps more accurately the inevitable outcome of a series of choices.  To me, the evidence is clear that “choice” has very little to do with it and maybe never did.  But even if there was a choice in there at some point, today, in the moment, we see folks who are adrift, dis-integrated, on the margins.  Though they are in our midst they are the “other” in a way that causes fear.  Though we see them, we do not–indeed, cannot–look at them.  Though we know they are without a home we do not want to imagine the places in which they lay their heads.

And what I am saying is that our goal should be to bring them home.

Now I realize that this can sound paternalistic or condescending and please forgive me if it does, but what I am trying to convey is that we need to reel them in, to send out a message, to find a way to communicate that we want them not just among us, but with us; not just present, but included; not just housed, but home.

What this homecoming will look like varies by the case, but it will certainly mean a return to mental and physical health, a roof, a job if that is possible, meaningful and healthy relationships (even if not with kin), and a sense of peace about where one will go the next day to take care of life’s basic needs.

The Means by Which we Will Achieve these Ends

Though I never knew him, I hope that Ellul would be happy to see an elected official (he himself held local office for a time), focusing on ends. I realize these ends are not fully articulated but if we can grasp the concept of the need for homecoming then we will have taken an important step on the long path towards constructively dealing with homelessness.

But what of our means.  Well, the foregoing should point the way to the kinds of programs, approaches, processes that will probably be necessary: mental health and addiction treatment, housing, job training, and supportive services.

But I would like to focus on what I believe to be the means that will make all these other means actually work.

I believe that the means by which we must approach this challenge is best defined as “pursuit.”  We must doggedly pursue the people whom we wish to welcome home.

Again, I write the foregoing with a bit of trepidation.  I am never certain how my words will be taken and so I need to hear how you hear this–I do not wish to offend.

What I mean by “pursuit” is that we must not give up in our attempt to welcome people home.  We must not grow weary because of the failures, the flameouts, the inevitable disappointments.  We must be determined to continue.

But pursuit has another sense: we must commit to the relational.  We must never see homelessness as a “technical” problem to be solved, a condition that lends itself to “dose/response” type input, or left to a cadre of professionals who deliver programs.  No, we must pursue loving and longstanding relationships as simple folks with the simple commitment to “press on.”

I realize that not everyone is gifted to be a “pursuer.”  I know that others must stand alongside or stand aside as the pursuit continues.  That’s okay.

But for those who are gifted (and I suspect you know who you are); for those who were made, or who have grown to do this work, we must be relentless in our pursuit of the relationships that result in the homecoming of these, our brothers and sisters without homes.

Happy MLK remembrance day.

*See Garrison, Kevin “Jacques Ellul’s Dialectical Theology: Embracing Contradictions about the Kingdom in the New Testament.” in The Ellul Forum.  Issue 60, Fall 2017.