Welcome to My Writer’s Sketchpad

Ruminations is where I share works in progress. Please follow the pointers below to learn more about me and the stories you’ll find on these pages. Thank you for visiting. Please return and tell a friend.

Who is Tom Abate and what does he write about?

Eclectic notions arising from my experiences and observations.

Stories and commentary based on research, interviews, and observations.

Satire, fiction, humor, and advice from the Dead Blogger’s Society.

Experiences and events that formed my character and inform my work and beliefs.


April 27, 2024

How to infuse journalism with AI to turbocharge democracy

This unsuccessful grant pitch might contain the germ of a useful idea.

We can usher in a golden age of journalism by using artificial intelligence and networking technologies to reorganize the gathering and publishing of information to help citizens solve problems democratically. Software engineers and journalists could create civic action bots to scour networks for reliable information and deliver it to people interested in solving specific problems. Journalists would evolve from telling stories to helping citizens tell their own stories, such as mobilizing and sustaining public opinion until local governments replaced lead...
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March 4, 2024

The only failure is not to learn from trying

When an overly ambitious scheme flopped, my granddaughters reminded me how kids invent new games. Wanna play?

For the twelve months leading up to California’s March 5th primary I’ve been trying to understand why the state’s behavioral health safety net hasn’t done more to alleviate mental illness, homelessness, and substance abuse.  Today, Californians vote on a plan by the governor and legislature to revise the safety net system. If ratified, Proposition 1 would partially change how California’s 58 counties deliver behavioral health services. It would also authorize a bond to build new treatment facilities and housing for...
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November 22, 2023

A Proposition 1 popup website would spur debate about the sorry state of mental health

By making Prop 1 stories easy to find, the popup would help voters focus on this complex initiative during the politically frenzied March presidential primary.

Heads up, Californians. In March, the governor and state legislature want you to vote on Proposition 1,[1] which would change how county governments spend about $3 billion a year from a special tax designed to strengthen the mental health safety net. If approved, Prop 1 would make county officials focus more money on programs to remediate serious mental illness, homelessness, and substance abuse, even if that forces them to find other ways to pay for current prevention and intervention efforts....
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May 2, 2023

A plug for San Leandro’s public schools

One dad’s open letter to new parents.

 It’s a nervous and exciting time at San Leandro High as seniors prepare for whatever adventures await them after graduation. As the father of a Class of 2022 grad, let me share how the city’s public schools prepared my daughter to make her way in the world. She started in the third grade, in a district that enrolled Hispanic, Asian, African American, and white students, in that numerical order. She made friends easily in and out of class, and many...
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Updated date: May 15th, 2023

Help Alameda County spend $176 million of millionaires’ money

How should we use funds from the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) to provide safety net services?

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is soliciting public comments before it decides how to spend $176 million of millionaire’s money to help low-income residents with moderate to severe mental illness and other mental health needs. The comment period precedes a Board vote expected in late June or early July to approve a new budget for the Mental Health Services Act. The MHSA became law in 2004 when voters approved Proposition 63, which placed a one-percent tax surcharge on Californians...
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April 10, 2023

Jimmy Carter’s recipe for a life well lived.

“The Virtues of Aging” is the former president's guide to finding satisfaction in service to family, friends, and community.

I’ve read Jimmy Carter’s slim volume, The Virtues of Aging, at three inflection points in my life, and each time I felt as if the former President had spoken to me like a friend. Carter was 74 when the book came out in 1998, by then more widely admired for his volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity than for his single term in the White House. He began the book by recalling how he and his beloved wife, Roslyn, returned...
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Updated date: April 19th, 2023

A Civil Grand Jury says Alameda County’s mental health system is ‘fragmented and unresponsive.’

County mental health officials reject its call to reassess how they spend $100 million a year to deliver safety net services.

Sometimes your only choice in life is to laugh or cry. I did both the day I called an Alameda County mental health hotline on behalf of a troubled adult only to get a voicemail that said, “If this is a mental health emergency, please hang up and dial 911.” That was a year ago. At roughly the same time, the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury released a report based on its investigation of the safety net services I was...
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Updated date: January 25th, 2023

‘Klever’ rapped a song so hot that he had to flee Columbia.

Geography, geopolitics, and the fate of one family out of thousands.

The jury is still out on whether Columbian rapper Ever Antonio López Salcedo got lucky. In November 2022, after crossing the Rio Grande with his partner, Genesis Betancourt, and their toddler, Melanie, he was apprehended and taken to a border patrol station in Laredo, Texas. There the family won temporary asylum while U.S. immigration courts consider whether to expel them or make their asylum permanent. The Lopez-Betancourt family got in before the Supreme Court closed the border. But President Joe...
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December 6, 2022

Book review: Nine ‘Wonder Words’ to change your outlook about changing the world.

People everywhere have found words to express the intentions that inspire them to act. Make yourself more powerful and satisfied by learning how to use them.

Globalization has expanded the collective wisdom of humankind by pooling words from thousands of languages. Author Lucy Turner has chosen nine of them as the basis for “9 Wonder Words: A Language for Living Well—Even When All Hell Breaks Loose,” a 178-page prescription for how to derive joy and purpose from doing your part to make the world better. As a career United Nations civil servant, Turner has worked with people in some of the world’s most troubled regions. How...
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October 6, 2022

Book review: Chairman Mao’s Little Red Bed

“Forbidden City: A Novel” explores the intrigue behind China’s Cultural Revolution through the lens of a well-researched historical fiction.

In 1976, San Francisco’s Chinatown erupts in fireworks to celebrate the death of Chairman Mao. In the commotion, a young political refugee living in anonymity recalls how, ten years earlier, she had been one of the teenage virgins selected to entertain the aging veterans of the Long March. This 1934 tactical retreat became the founding myth of the People’s Republic of China. Through the novel’s reverie, in the safety of her thoughts, protagonist Mei Xiang relives the ambition and idealism...
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