Walking the Line

In their recent report on global wealth distribution, OXFAM International revealed that in 2016, eight individuals held the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of humanity.

What does that look like on an a properly scaled graph?

It turns out that chart is actually impossible to find. And for good reason.

Not only does it not even fit on a sheet of paper, it doesn’t even fit on the planet Earth.

But lets try and imagine. Grab yourself a pencil and make a pencil point dot.  The width of that dot represents one person.  The height: one US dollar.

Now imagine a line that basically stretches all the way from San Francisco to Lincoln, Nebraska.  That 1500 mile line contains the number of pencil dots that would represent all of the 4.8 billion adults on the planet.

For the first 180 miles of dots – all the way to the Sierra Mountains, the line basically doesn’t exist. These dots have nothing.  For the next 600 miles, the line is a couple inches wide and eventually a couple feet thick. Most of those folks in the first half of humanity are worth less than a thousand bucks a piece.

In case you’re wondering, if you’re a newly minted millionaire, you’re way near the end, somewhere in the burbs, about eight miles outside of downtown Lincoln.  And your line of dollars?  It’s somewhat less then the height of the Worlds Trade Center.

The line continues at about that height essentially until we get to the last 3/8ths of an inch of the 1500 miles.  That last little itsy bitsy bit is the width of pencil. These folks, keep in mind are eight miles away from the new millionaire, and (keep in mind, he’s just a dot) way out of sight.  That 3/8ths of an inch consists of just 8 people.

Now. As for the very last two pencil points, how high are their lines?

This is where it gets really crazy.

Mount Everest?   5 1/2 miles high. The highest jump from space?  Twenty-six miles by Google VP, Dr. Alan Eustace.  The orbit of the space station?  248 miles above the surface of the earth.

But the wealth of the two richest men on earth?  Get this. Those pencil dots representing each of their dollars side by side would extend 22,059 miles into space.

As for the eight guys?  Their amount of pencil lead in the last 3/8ths of an inch would equal all the pencil lead representing all the wealth owned by all the dots in the line stretching from San Francisco to the border of Wyoming.

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And now, whoever’s reading, pretty much all of you, you can basically stop. Because at this point it might make sense to narrow this audience to just the last eight guys (and they are all guys). They’re all pretty smart and, as far as I know, pretty good folks.

Bill, Amancio, Warren, Carlos, Jeff, Mark, Larry, and Michael, here are four questions:

1. Is this necessary?

2. Is it moral and just?

3. Is it effective and efficient?

4. Is it stable and safe?

And now a fifth question.  Based on your answers to the first four, does the disparity matter, and what would you each propose we do about it?

The New Colossus

hot-on-flag As broadcast on KQED.

On Saturday, Market Street overflowed with more than a hundred thousand undaunted people. That night, one thing above all became abundantly clear.

Both civil and profane, the sound encompassed both the lady’s diction and the withering honesty of the nasty woman. Yet it was far more than that. Around the country the air carried the voice of a manifold population gathered from all manner of lived experience.

This was not the voice of me above you. Nor was it the voice of “I”. Nor “Them” against “Those”. It was the voice of “Us” demarcated neither by gender, nor age, nor geography. It spoke to what America truly is. We are strong not because we are this thing or that thing. We are strong because we are Every Thing.

In 1883 the poet Emma Lazarus wrote the words now inscribed in New York Harbor, describing that New Colossus. She towers not like a brazen giant, but “a mighty woman whose flame is imprisoned lightening, and her name, the Mother of Exiles.”

We also know her as Liberty.

She shrinks neither from fear nor the immensity of her challenge.

Send these, the tempest-tost to me, she asks. And she embraces them with a mother’s arm. This act that might speak of weakness becomes our greatest strength and reveals a moral wealth that casts shame on any gilded tower.

It rests in the belief that there can exist a nation able to accommodate all manner of creed and idea. In this way, the many, so different, can become a resolute and indivisible One.

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

partridge-pear-treeAs broadcast on KQED

On a recent rainy morning, I was decorating a particular tree — the one that represents that great Tree of Life — and I paused to consider how many presents my true love gave to me.

It’s a simple problem, really. One partridge, plus two turtle doves, plus three French hens: It’s basically the summation of an arithmetic series and there’s a simple formula for it.

That formula is sometimes tied to the great 19th century mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. One day when he was a young boy, his school master was feeling particularly cruel and he asked the class to total all the numbers from 1 to 100. So the class set to scribbling, 1+2+3 etc.

But Gauss noticed something. He saw that you can break the one hundred numbers into fifty pairs: 1+100, 2+99 and so on. Basically you have fifty 101s. Fifty times 101 is 5050.

Bingo.

Gauss walked up to the teacher and lay down the sum.

“There it lies,” he said.

Class over.

So what’s this story really about? It’s not so much about math but about tyranny, about an insecure schoolmaster working in a subject that may have far exceeded his reach. In reaction, he bullied those around him.

But by using his powers of thought, Gauss was able to resist.

There are perhaps two ways to vanquish tyranny or the threat there of. The first may be the generosity of Christ, that very thing that we celebrate in the Christmastide; the power to give and love in the face of selfishness and greed.

And if that fails? Well, on the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me 78 presents, the last of which was a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

The Lord on High, in concert with one of his lesser Angels, gave us life and within that life the power to reason. With that gift may joy prevail, and may all manner of ignorance be defeated.

Gratitude

These are the things for which I am grateful today.

I am grateful that I have a home and that I am warm.

I am grateful that I have Facebook friends who could laugh at me and cheer me on yesterday as I crawled home with an injured back.

I am grateful for a long suffering partner who brought me a cup of hot chocolate this afternoon.

I am separately grateful for the milk and for the chocolate.

I am grateful for my daughter who hung a Santa Rosa marathon medallion around my neck as I lay immobile on the floor.

I am grateful to have two pillows to tuck between my knees and one behind my head.

I am grateful to have windows that allow me to see the fog and the sunlight and tonight’s epic moon.

I am grateful to Kaiser Permanente for their excellent back care videos.

I am grateful to have hot water and to have a shower with walls so that I can stand and brace myself.

I am grateful to have high speed internet so that while I’ve lay prone, I’ve been able watch no small number of documentaries about the European theatre in World War II.

I am grateful to the persons who perhaps without any foresight of the future shot film and took pictures and wrote words so that three quarters of a century later we have evidence of all the things great and terrible that occurred.

I am grateful to have guidance for what may come.

I am grateful to the mathematicians of Bletchley Park who broke and broke again the Enigma code so that we could keep open the American maritime supply lines to Britain.

I’m grateful to Alan Turing for imagining the impossible.

I am grateful to the ruthless Germans who invaded my mother’s country.  If it were not for them, I would not be here today.

I am grateful to the ruthless Soviet troops who brought an end to the Third Reich and in the process chased my family all the way to the Elbe.  If it were not for them I would not be here today.

 

I am grateful to each and every one of the boys who fell from the sky on the dawn of June 6th, 1944 across the hedgerows of the Cotentin Penninsula.  If it were not for them, I would not be here today.

I am grateful for my thrown out back that gives me cause to be.  And the aching back that affords a moment to be grateful.

Why I Should Be President

I would like to ask for your vote as I run for President of this Fair Land.

I believe in our most core values.

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And I too have been known for making unwanted advances on beautiful women.

 

I also have been victimized by the rigged and corrupt legal system.

 

In the past I have associated with cruel and malicious despots.

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And yet I get along famously with the common man.

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I am firmly grounded in reality.

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And I am well read.

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I have a sound platform founded in consistent and thoughtful policy.

 

I am not opposed to the right kind of Muslims.

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And most importantly, I have always stood by Native Americans.

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May we all join hands together in our journey to make this Land great again.

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Winning

Anna and I are losers.

And we don’t want to be losers.

We want to be winners.

And you can’t be a winner if you don’t play the game.

So last night we took up Safeway Monopoly.

We bought 24 cans of Friskies cat food for our dying cat.

And we got 48 Safeway Monopoly tickets.  Safeway tells me that if I just buy enough Friskies and Poptarts, we’re going to be winners.  We’re going to win a million dollars.  And a big TV.  And lots of other stuff.

Last night we spent one hour tearing and sorting and pasting.  Now the Lewis family is running the table.

Because in the end we won 6 more tickets.  And so we’re going back to Safeway to buy some more stuff and get even more tickets.  And it’s just going to get better.

We’re going to be winners.  And you can be a winner, too.  You and all of our country will no longer be losers and the rest of the world will stop laughing at us.

In a few more days, I’m nailing Park Place.  And I’ll have my Dawn Dishwashing Soap.

And you just wait and watch as I build me my Trump Towers.