Democracy Is in the Streets

I have been re-reading James Miller's 1987 "Democracy is in the Streets" since he was in Oakland a month ago. The book provides a richly detailed account of the short life of the "Students for a Democratic Society" (SDS) from their beginnings at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in 1962 through their being a major driving force behind the protests against the Vietnam war to their collapse in 1969.

read more

Made in China 2025

The Trump administration has been worried about China turning itself into a leading economic power. Its current trade war with China is officially aimed at bringing about relatively small changes in China’s economic policies but its real aim is to constrain China’s long-term development. We can be sure that China would be willing to adjust its trade policies but it will certainly not abandon its overall development plans. There is no reason to think that the Chinese would ever consent to being in a permanently inferior economic position.  And it is not obvious that the US can keep it there.

read more

Trouble in Paradise

The small city of Paradise has been consumed by one of those California forest fires that are becoming only too frequent. Dozens of people have died. Meanwhile, we have been choking in the polluted air 200 miles away. Last year, close friends almost lost their house in the fires that raged around Santa Rosa.

Who can we blame but ourselves? Our freeways are clogged by millions of cars; we fly across continents for business or pleasure; we maintain polluting industries in order to keep the economy going. When our politicians prove unable or unwilling to take action they only reflect our own attitudes. Living in Berkeley, I find myself surrounded by “environmentalists,” but they still burn their woodfires in their chimneys even on the worst bad-air days. Official “Spare the air” alerts are a joke. They are backed up by nothing and largely ignored.

read more

The Empire of Disorientation. A Preface (2nd draft)

It was the day after the election of Donald Trump when I first realized that we are living now in an empire of disorientation. That morning I faced 200 students who were so distraught that I had to cancel a scheduled examination. Some of my colleagues said soon afterwards that we needed to meet in order to console each other. The media and the commentators were profoundly puzzled that morning and in the days to come about the election outcome and what it meant. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, was at a loss for words, her supporters destroyed. Even Trump himself, we are told, was stunned by the unexpected turn of events. I have come to understand since then that the disorientation that everybody felt that day was, in fact, a symptom of a wide-spread and truly pandemic condition. My initial picture of the United States as an empire of disorientation gave thus way to the recognition that the empire of disorientation is our new, global reality.

read more


I just received the first “presidential alert” on my cell phone and I was, frankly, appalled. It’s not just that I don’t want to hear from Donald Trump. I also don’t want receive “presidential alerts” from any future president. What’s wrong with this? The name is another building block in the construction of the imperial presidency. It’s not a name that democrats should be thinking of. Why not “National Alert” or “US Alert” or “Federal Government Alert”? We have been assured that the current office holder will not use it for his own political purpose. But why would a future president not think: a presidential alert is a presidential alert and I will use it as such? What stands in the way?

read more

The Hermeneutics of Suspicion II

We are living at a moment of political disorientation. Distrust is common. Suspicion is rampant. Why do we consider some things assured and certain while others are contested? What is the difference between physics and politics? We need to think about how trust and distrust work in these domains.

read more

Two views of Beijing

August 16, 2018

The World Congress of Philosophy is continuing; but today, Thursday, it is mostly student presentations in Chinese. I take time off and get on the subway to do some sightseeing. What I discover is an abyss in the human heart.

read more

Meeting Joshua Wong

August 11, 2018

It is Saturday morning and I am about to meet up with Joshua Wong at the Bricklane Café right across from Hong Kong’s Legislature where Wong’s political party has its office. It turns out that Wong has already been at work that weekend morning and I am not the only visitor he will see that day. I am curious to hear from him about the current state of Hong Kong politics.

read more