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Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain

I do love a good Mark Twain quote.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

One thing I really love about that quote is how it kind of spirals in on itself if you try to track down where Mark Twain said it because it just ain’t so, he never said that.

But it’s still a great saying because we all believe things that just ain’t so. It’s impossible for a human to fact-check absolutely everything that they think they know.


With all of the talk of race, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience growing up in San Jose, California, back when San Jose was known for orchards instead of silicon and software.

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San Jose, when it still had orchards

Most of San Jose, and certainly the part I grew up in, was pretty white. The east side of town was where the “Mexicans” lived. North of downtown was a section called Japantown that had managed to reform after the relocations during WWII. All of the gardeners and nurserymen in town were Japanese. There were a few Chinese and very, very few black people. The blacks were up in Oakland, San Francisco, Richmond, not Santa Clara Valley. Later, when I first bought a house in Santa Clara Valley I saw that the deed had a clause (no longer enforceable by then) prohibiting sale to blacks. My parents had of course inherited some racial attitudes, but there weren’t many occasions for them to pass them strongly on to me. I only saw black people occasionally on TV, and until the Civil Rights Movement, it would probably be someone like Louis Armstrong on a variety show. I remember once we were driving not far from our house in the family car with the dog and there was a black man walking down the street. We were all surprised, and probably stared at him. I don’t think I had seen a black man outside of TV before that. …


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George Washington

I recently saw an ad for some slogan t-shirts and one particular slogan caught my eye. It was a quote attributed to George Washington that I wasn’t familiar with:


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Photo: Pablo García Saldaña — unsplash.com

There have been many essays about problems with the old left vs. right political paradigm. I’d like to attempt a view from a higher altitude than usual and hope it might lead to some useful insights. In recent years I’ve begun to see many problems in terms of humankind’s tendency towards two general patterns which affect people regardless of where they sit on any political spectrum: absolutism and entrenchment. The usual solutions offered for our problems in government and economics tend to be alternative absolutisms that end up entrenching themselves if they gain favor. …


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Tillie and baby Eleanor.

On July 23rd, 1926, a baby girl was born in the little town of Los Banos, California to Francis and Tillie McDonald. The addition of little Eleanor Lois made the McDonald family come out even, three boys and three girls: Roy, Lula, Buck, Jim, Molly Jean, and now, baby Eleanor. The age gap between her and her oldest siblings was enough that they were moving out and even bringing home little nieces and nephews while she was still a young girl. Her youngest brother, Jim, was older than her, but just close enough for Eleanor to idolize him, and Jim had a soft spot for her. Molly was the closest in age, but still five years older, so there was no doubt about who was the baby girl. Their father, Francis, worked in town as a butcher at a local grocery store. The way Eleanor told the story later, the family had moved to Los Banos because Francis had been hired to work at the other grocery store in town. On his first day at work, his boss had asked him to grind up hamburger meat and told him to include some liver for filler. …


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The Emerald City

It’s not every day that I connect Buddhism and L. Frank Baum, so I thought I would write this one down. The connection began recently when a friend posted this quote on Facebook:

“What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.” — The Buddha [via Gregory Fisher, 2011]

I love the sentiment, but I’m a bit of a quote nerd, always wanting to verify them, always wondering “did he really say that?”, always looking for actual sources. I perk up at Buddha quotes on the internet because, though many Buddhists are very quotable, Buddha himself is another matter. I don’t know whether it was Buddha’s way of expressing himself or the huge gap between the language of the originals and English, direct Buddha quotes usually just aren’t very catchy. …


We understand the world through stories. Many stories are buried so deeply in our way of seeing the world that they are not obvious to us and it takes some mental work to expose them and see that they are stories rather than objective reality. The story of money is a good example.

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Stuff

Money is a cultural invention; it does not exist outside of human culture. The existence of money, or something very like money, goes far back in our history. The story we base our understanding of money on is an ancient one, and may no longer be serving us well as we proceed into the twenty-first century. Our future holds the possibility of the loss of huge numbers of jobs to technological developments such as self-driving vehicles; there just may not enough jobs to go around and we may need to consider the idea of guaranteeing everyone a minimum standard of living via a Universal Basic Income. It’s possible that our way of thinking about money may need to change. …


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1971

If you are able to read this, be it on a computer, tablet, or smartphone, you are a very, very lucky person. I certainly know I am. Being lucky enough to be born a tall white male in suburban California gave me a head start over the vast majority of the world’s population. Being a long-haired hippie in the late 60’s — early 70’s was culturally unacceptable enough to experience a taste of real discrimination and prejudice from the police (with scars to prove it), but I always knew that I was a mere haircut and change of clothes away from making it all go away. It turned out that a cultural shift made it all go away; the rednecks started wearing their hair long too. …


In 1967 when the Summer of Love was happening up in San Francisco, I was 15 and living 50 miles south in San Jose, so I was just a bit too young to drive up there. But I was close enough to watch it on the local news from the San Francisco TV stations, and I knew that all sorts of stuff was happening up there. I was fascinated by it all but I was usually a good kid, and maybe a bit afraid of going too wild, so I didn’t do anything crazy to get up there.

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Stanley Mouse poster for a concert I went to in 1968. Apparently nobody told Mouse that they had dropped the definite article a couple of years earlier.

I turned 16 and got my driver’s license at the end of 1967. At that point in my life, it was just me and my mother at home. She was working graveyard shifts Monday through Friday at Memorex, quality testing computer tape all night. She left for work before my bedtime those nights. On weekdays she didn’t get home until I had left for school, which meant I could play music really LOUD as I was getting ready for school. Any curfew I had on a Friday night was purely on the honor system since she was off to work before I had to be home. Sometimes I could even have the car for the evening and she would get a ride to work from a friend. Like I said, I was usually a good kid and didn’t take excessive advantage of all of this. …

Daniel McCoy

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