Monthly Archives: December 2015

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Consensus – Austin as a community, not just a political jurisdiction


(Community Matters) Civics once taught us to look for the intersection of interests and sensitivities of the minority in crafting public rules. It hurts my head and tears at my heart that we’ve become such a divided society where consensus has been replaced with a Ninja fighter, Samurai warrior, adrenaline-winning strategy – how to beat the other side, execute the win-loss strategy and make it hurt. Ha, I hear myself and acknowledge I have subscribed to that path in business and find it unhealthy in civics – hmm questioning whether always right in business but that’s another post.

The echo chamber we hear in national politics is alive, appears growing, in local politics, even Austin’s. Since so many of our friends and colleagues are from rather homogenous communities (industries, economics, educational attainment, geography), it’s too easy to confuse the echo chamber for a jurisdiction’s consensus. I hear dear friends proclaiming . . . but we’re the high tech/entrepreneurial city . . . not realizing that this moniker is not proudly shared by all Austinites – certainly not by many struggling under income inequality, rental pricing spikes, a slowing growth (or decline) in wages, gentrification and other worsening affordability. And, friends who resent any regulatory obstacles, any questioning of their entrepreneurial ambitions. . . Austin didn’t become the city you love without pushing the limits of regulation, ordinances allowed under Texas jurisdiction and public/private partnerships. If neighborhood and environmental activists hadn’t won SOS, there’d be a whole lot less green space. If government, the universities and businesses hadn’t collaborated and intervened to bring to town IBM, Tx Instruments, IC2, ATI, MCC & Sematech, and the various fabs, it’s doubtful we’d be the high tech hub you see today. Nor if artists and musicians (several who resent our, the high tech community’s arrogance, and who endure the spikes in prices we’ve brought) hadn’t built such a thriving arts and creative arts scene, it’s quesitonable whether we would be such an attractive resettlement location given the reputation of our state among young progressives where it not for a very progressive local government, green spaces, the thriving economy and the arts scene.. And, hey, yes, these other stakeholders are enjoying some of the fruits of the high tech/entrepreneurial world’s labor. Before we take such strong positions, shouldn’t we consider the other side – who are the least empowered in this argument and which decision might favorably impact their outcomes? Those most enthusiastically arguing the other side, what, how can we understand their perspective, is there something other than a win-loss here? What’s the win-win? The questions might or might not yield different answers, different positions, but what if in Austin we strived for consensus over an up or down, win/loss. We must tend to our civic culture as it were a delicate, precious living creature – it is.

[edit: a friend pointed out the inconsistency of framing our state as neaderthal-headed in an essay about civility]

Shrinking American Middle Class

(Community Matters) I’d forgotten this NYTimes study: during the last 8 years rise in lower income, shrinking middle & upper – percentage of households in high income have declined while those in low income has risen. The middle class has been declining since the late 70s but since 2009, so has been the number of Americans in upper income. Younger are doing worse, education even more important, race matters.

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I learned from a friend who does business globally (more overseas than here), there’s two ways to think about this.

While millions of Americans have slipped from the middle class into low income, hundreds of millions of Asians have risen from absolute poverty to middle income. There are a lot of super rich who consider their economic constituency global rather than domestic.

The American middle class is shrinking And, there are a lot more Americans living well today than ever before. Nevertheless, there are more on the top side and more on the bottom side of income/earnings in America, fewer in the middle (in the 60s, 61%, today only 50%), according to Pew. 

“The share of middle-income adults who are ages 65 and older doubled from 9 percent in 1971 to 18 percent in 2015,” the Pew study finds. 

study by New York Times which is more illuminating of the last decade:

“The Mad Gardener’s Song,” by Lewis Carroll

mad gardner Vasquez on behance

(Community Matters) how could I not post Steven Robert Tomlinson’s favorite poem as a kid

The Mad Gardener’s Song

by Lewis Carroll


He thought he saw an Elephant,
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
‘At length I realise,’ he said,
‘The bitterness of Life!’

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister’s Husband’s Niece.
‘Unless you leave this house,’ he said,
‘I’ll send for the Police!’

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
‘The only thing I regret,’ he said,
‘Is that it cannot speak!’

He thought he saw a Banker’s Clerk
Descending from the bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus:
‘If this should stay to dine,’ he said,
‘There won’t be much for us!’

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In Honor of Mrs. Rosa Parks

ROSA_PARKSreprint: (Washington, D.C., Sunday, Oct 30, 2005)

Standing in line among so many proud Black women, proud Black men, proud men and women of every color…

After reading on Friday that Mrs. Rosa Parks would lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, I booked a ticket for Saturday.  On Sunday, I was in line to honor this woman who by taking a seat taught us how to stand.

Eventually there were tens of thousands in the line.  But, by noon there were only 31.  I was number 29.  The doors to the Capitol finally opened at 8:40pm.

It wasn’t easy finding the line on the Capitol grounds Sunday morning.  Only a non-Black person from a city as white as Austin would assume that two Black women standing near the Washington, D.C. Botanical Gardens were forming the line for Mrs. Parks.  Me–I’m guilty.  And, only after reflecting on this did I realize why Ruby from the Detroit Free Press hadn’t thought to ask these women if they were the line.  I introduced them.  Ruby interview them, especially Ms. Joyce Cox who grew up a bike ride away from the Capitol and told me her story of riding her bike on the grounds as Queen Elizabeth’s motorcade drove by.

Eventually, Ruby found the line and called, telling me it was a few hundred yards away, near Third Street.  When I arrived (11:30), 28 others had gathered.  Once no. 30 and no. 31 arrived, I walked up and down the line talking to each person.  It will not surprise my friends that I have lots of notes on index cards.   

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