Recently I was in the awkward position of explaining to a woman the concept of mansplaining.

What is mansplaining? This clip from the television series Silicon Valley explains:


What can we men do to improve our communication skills?

This short article contains good advice. Please follow the link. It won’t take you long to read, and there are five excellent tips in that column that everyone can use to improve the art of conversation.

Many thanks to a family member and a friend, neither of my generation, for the links.

I maintain that my awkward situation in the first sentence was not an instance of mansplaining because she didn’t already know (see the last line in the video) and she asked for an explanation (see tip #3 in the article). That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Update 7/03/17: This post was rewritten to improve clarity.

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Quantum Birthday Thought

The image to the left is a birthday card. Inside the card it says:

Don’t worry… It will make more sense after you start drinking.

I am reminded of something Richard Feynman said. Richard Feynman (1918-1988) won a Nobel prize in physics in 1965 for work in quantum electrodynamics.

In 1961-63 Feynman created and taught a completely revamped two-year introductory physics course at Caltech, known as The Feynman Lectures on Physics. These famous lectures were published and are now available online for free at the link in the preceding sentence.

The third lecture was titled “The Relation of Physics to Other Sciences” and Feynman ended the lecture as follows:

A poet once said, “The whole universe is in a glass of wine.” We will probably never know in what sense he meant that, for poets do not write to be understood. But it is true that if we look at a glass of wine closely enough we see the entire universe. There are the things of physics: the twisting liquid which evaporates depending on the wind and weather, the reflections in the glass, and our imagination adds the atoms. The glass is a distillation of the earth’s rocks, and in its composition we see the secrets of the universe’s age, and the evolution of stars. What strange array of chemicals are in the wine? How did they come to be? There are the ferments, the enzymes, the substrates, and the products. There in wine is found the great generalization: all life is fermentation. Nobody can discover the chemistry of wine without discovering, as did Louis Pasteur, the cause of much disease. How vivid is the claret, pressing its existence into the consciousness that watches it! If our small minds, for some convenience, divide this glass of wine, this universe, into parts—physics, biology, geology, astronomy, psychology, and so on—remember that nature does not know it! So let us put it all back together, not forgetting ultimately what it is for. Let it give us one more final pleasure: drink it and forget it all!

Quantum physics is strange. Feynman once said: “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” (source – the quote comes from lecture #6)

A few years ago I read a fascinating book titled Quantum Reality. Click here for an overview of the ideas in the book. Interesting stuff.

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Quilt square by Anne Standish

Anne Standish of Cambridge has contributed a beautiful quilt square on behalf of the town to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns for their Local Government Quilt Project:

VLCT launched its Local Government Quilt Project in 2005 to celebrate the Town Fair 2005 theme of “Cities and Towns – Working Together, Making a Difference.” … To date, seventy-five Vermont municipalities have submitted handcrafted squares… The first 47 squares plus a VLCT square were bound into the first quilt, which former Governor Douglas unveiled at Town Fair 2005. A second quilt, introduced at Town Fair 2009, consists of another 12 squares; a third quilt is in progress.

As reported this week in the News and Citizen: “Anne…recently retired from a career in health care to focus on her second career as an art quilter.”

Anne’s website notes that “Anne’s inspiration comes from her surroundings – the landscapes she sees every day around her home in Cambridge, Vermont.”

The quilt square of Pleasant Valley and Mount Mansfield pleasingly captures the beauty of our town.

Thank you, Anne!

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Classifying Public Life: Discussion and Examples

In the previous post I discussed how I sometimes think about public life in terms of three sectors:

  • Government
  • For-profit
  • Not-for-profit

And sometimes in terms of two sectors:

  • Government
  • Society (= for-profit + not-for-profit)

In this post I further discuss my views on these sectors, with examples.

Consider three examples from recent posts on this blog about Cambridge, and how they fit into my three-way classification scheme:

Whenever we encounter (or create) an organized group or activity, we do well to think about which of the three sectors it falls into, and its relationship to the other two sectors.

My preference is to keep as much of public life as possible out of the government sector, and in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.

One reason relates to the question in the header: What is a proper relationship between a free people and their government? Consider my two-way classification of public life between government (which is compulsory) and society (which is voluntary). The more government, the more compulsion; and the less freedom for the people. If taken far enough, there will be no such thing anymore as a free people. Having “a free people” is important to me.

This reason for preferring limited government can be restated in terms of power. We all are wary of too much power in the hands of others. Certainly corporations in the for-profit sector can be powerful. Entities in the not-for-profit sector can also be powerful. But only government has the power to legally take from us by force our property and our liberty. We do well not to give government too much power.

A second reason for preferring limited government is as follows. Many ideas sound good initially, and may even be good at the outset, but as time goes on it becomes clear that they need to end. This is readily accomplished in the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. In both sectors it is common for entities to cease to exist when they have outlived their usefulness. There is a name for this concept in the for-profit sector: creative destruction. But there is no comparable process in the government sector. Once a government program is created, it is difficult to end it even when doing so would benefit the greater good.

For both of the above reasons, it is wise to be cautious in creating government programs.

My only prior experience serving in government, before being elected to the Cambridge selectboard earlier this year, was when the governor appointed me to the Vermont Agricultural Development Board in 2010. (It became the Vermont Agricultural and Forest Products Development Board in 2012.) I remember once commenting to my fellow board members about “our role in government” and being surprised that some of them were surprised at the thought that they were serving in government. This is one way that government expands – when we aren’t paying attention to its boundaries.

Of course the VAFPDB was in the government sector. Granted, we were only advisory, but our opinions were (hopefully) being considered by people in the legislative and executive branches of government with the power and authority to enact government policies and programs. That was why the board was created. I resigned from the VAFPDB in 2013 in part because I felt that it was being asked to do things that in my view were better left to the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.

Returning to the Cambridge examples listed above:

The management of cemeteries by cemetery associations falls in the not-for-profit sector. When there is no cemetery association, it falls to government to assume this responsibility and it is appropriate for a cemetery commission to exist as part of government.

The Villages Project is a type of mutual aid society as has existed throughout history and enriched society in countless ways. It is appropriately part of the not-for-profit sector.

The commuter bus is part of government because it is operated by a government entity (Green Mountain Transit) and mostly paid for by government (88%). As noted in the post about the commuter bus, the voters in Cambridge will have an opportunity at town meeting in March 2018 to decide if they want to continue this service.

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Classifying Public Life

Three sectors of public lifeI sometimes think about public life in terms of three sectors:

  • Government
  • For-profit
  • Not-for-profit

Government makes the rules that everyone lives by. The for-profit sector provides most of the goods and services that we use. The not-for-profit sector fills in the gaps, especially when the other two sectors do not provide a complete and satisfying life for everyone.

Any one person may spend their entire life in only one sector, but collectively we need all three sectors. All three sectors are necessary and proper.

No sector is better or worse than the other two. Done well, each of the three sectors is noble. Almost every not-for-profit entity has a noble mission, and most of the people in that sector are altruistic and unselfish – as are most people in the other two sectors. Most people in all three sectors are good people, although there are a few selfish people and bad actors in all three sectors, about equally distributed as far as I can tell.

Some on the right may generally distrust government and believe that government is, at best, a necessary evil. Some on the left may generally distrust the for-profit sector and believe that it is, at best, a necessary evil. I do not hold either view.

We are a better people when living under an appropriate rule of law provided by government, as opposed to being a feral mob as in Lord of the Flies. We need government to provide rules for public interactions and prevent anarchy.

The for-profit sector also makes us a better people. The essence of the for-profit sector is serving others by providing something they want while using resources wisely enough to hopefully make a profit. That in itself is a nobility that is often insufficiently recognized, but there are further reasons to appreciate the for-profit sector. Most innovation occurs in the for-profit sector. And it is the for-profit sector that creates the wealth that supports both government and the not-for-profit sector and provides our high standard of living.

The three sectors must work together, but we do well to keep in mind their differences. I believe that confidence in our public institutions would be stronger if we keep these three sectors in mind, with their respective strengths and weaknesses, and adjust our expectations according.

It is also useful sometimes to think of public life in terms of just two sectors. The for-profit and not-for-profit sectors can be combined into “society.” Government remains as its own sector. The distinguishing factor between these two sectors is that the essence of government is that it is compulsory, while the essence of society is that it is voluntary.

Government and society have a yin and yang relationship with each other. They are complementary opposites. Neither is complete without the other. Together they create community and civilization.

This two-way classification of public life corresponds to the question in the header: What is a proper relationship between a free people (i.e., society) and their government? There is no final, definitive answer to that question, but it is a useful question for framing discussions about government and citizenship.

I will return to these classifications, both three-way and two-way, in future posts. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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Jeffersonville Commuter Bus

The Jeffersonville Commuter bus will continue to operate through June 30, 2018 without any reduction in service.

Click here for the bus schedule – see Route 36. Green Mountain Transit (GMT) is the regional transit authority that operates the bus.

Previously service was assured through June 30, 2017 but it was uncertain what would happen after that. GMT’s board of directors took action today (May 16, 2017) to assure that the bus will continue to operate through June 30, 2018.

GMT says that annual costs for the bus route are $236,400 and fares cover $27,500 (12%). That leaves $208,900 (88%) to be paid by government. Federal and state grants covered 100% of the costs net of fares through June 30, 2016, but only 80% after that. That left $41,780 for local communities to cover per year. GMT annually requested $14,000 each from the towns of Cambridge, Underhill and Jericho, totaling $42,000. (For readers outside the area, Jeffersonville is a village in the town of Cambridge.)

All three towns paid that amount for the year ending June 30, 2017. Things got complicated for the year ending June 30, 2018. Jericho agreed to pay $14,000. The Underhill Selectboard initially said that Underhill would not pay anything, but a motion was passed from the floor at the Underhill town meeting in March 2017 to pay $5,000. On May 9, 2017 the Underhill Selectboard voted to increase their contribution to $10,000. In Cambridge the issue was discussed but not resolved at town meeting in March 2017. On April 17, 2017 the Cambridge Selectboard voted to pay $14,000 (minutes). Events in Cambridge transpired as recommended in my memo on this issue dated March 24, 2017 (link). That memo includes more detailed information about this issue, including ridership numbers through February 2017.

In summary, after the action of the Underhill Selectboard on May 9th, GMT was only $4,000 short of the amount it requested. GMT’s board of directors voted on May 16th to use $4,000 of its own funds to make up the shortfall.

All three towns will have decisions to make next spring about funding after June 30, 2018. In Cambridge at least, it is currently the intent of the Selectboard that the voters will decide this issue at town meeting in March 2018. By then we will have more information, including the results of a study that GMT is conducting, with the help of an outside consultant, of all their routes.

Look for an update in the 2017 Cambridge annual report when it comes out next winter.

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The Villages Project

The Villages Project is an initiative to provide services to the elderly in their homes in order to allow them to age in place, without moving to an elder care facility. The concept originated with a group of citizens in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston in 2001. See Beacon Hill Village.

That initiative has inspired the formation of more than 200 Villages in the United States and other countries. The Village to Village Network was formed in 2010 to provide guidance, resources and support to help communities establish and maintain their Villages.

The Wikipedia article on “Elder village” is a useful primer on this topic. Note that “Village” in this context is a virtual village, really a nonprofit organization, not a municipal entity.

This concept is currently being explored by a group of interested citizens in Cambridge. The Cambridge Selectboard heard a presentation at its meeting on February 27, 2017 (minutes, see page 2) and will hear an additional presentation at its next meeting on May 15, 2017 (agenda).

UPDATE: Related – a New York Times article dated 5/19/17 about the architectural challenges of aging in place: Planning to Age in Place? Find a Contractor Now.

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