Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Can solo acts spark social movements?

The other day at Lawyers, Guns & Money, Erik Loomis, who I usually consider a sharp observer of popular organizing, wrote a post with a strange premise about Bree Newsome's wonderful direct action in pulling down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina capital.

The Role of a Single Activist
... This fantastic episode of direct action ramps up the pressure on South Carolina to get rid of the flag and continues placing the anti-flag movement in the public eye where it has been since the attack on the Charleston church last week. ...

What’s also interesting about this to me is the outsized role single activists can sometimes have in moving conversations forward, setting off new movements, and exposing the power structure that oppresses people. Most of us are simply not going to climb that flag pole. But we probably should. ...

It had not occurred for me for a minute to think of Newsome as a "single activist." Her brave step seems so obviously to arise out of organized demands, out of the wonderful eruption of justice energy that is the Black Lives Matter movement. She was undoubtedly aware of a community of sisters and brothers who would have her back. That posse would leverage the resources to support her. Her life matters.

Now Loomis is of course right that lonely acts can sometimes prompt vast movements. But lonely acts will often -- usually -- sink without a ripple. What's hard is to predict which actions will make enduring waves. What Newsome did certainly amplified a cresting tide already in motion. She's won an honored place in the long river of resistance -- but she is certainly not alone.
All that was introduction to this video which struck me as presenting a worthy, semi-solitary, effort to advance a movement. Walking for justice has many precedents. The guy has a big union at this back. Somehow I doubt his pilgrimage will fan many sparks that aren't already smoldering along his route. But of course I could be wrong. And when what you need is movement, you need as many solo actors as possible, hoping that one will raise a conflagration.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Pride pushing forward

For many gay people of my generation, the annual LGBT Pride bash evokes mixed emotions, if we even attend. We remember terrifying times. We remember so many causalities among our age group who dared to flaunt forbidden love when such conduct required heedless optimism -- and who are dead. A few were gay-bashed. Sometimes the drug and alcohol abuse which can be the refuge of outcasts did them in. In this city, HIV/AIDS killed a generation. We never imagined we'd see a majority of our fellow citizens affirm that our love could be just as good as theirs. The Supreme Court's marriage decision, even though the more politically attuned among us were confident it was coming, leaves us slightly stunned. Happy, yes. But still a little disoriented.

Lots of older people carried these muddled feelings to the San Francisco city streets today, mingling with crowds -- gay, lesbian, trans, straight and whatever -- whose celebration is not complicated by such tangled memories. It was a grand day.

On the BART train home from the gargantuan civic party, I noticed this tableau and ad. There's a pill called PrEP these days that protects uninfected people from the HIV virus, if they take it every day. Since that kind of rigorous health regimen is hard to sustain -- who does anything every day? -- the San Francisco Health Department via a program called Bridge HIV is looking for additional reliable methods to deliver the drug to protect sexually active people. Where better to recruit pharmacological volunteers than on the Bay's transit system?

One of the enduring consequences of the AIDS crisis that so decimated our community is that this appeal to ordinary people for help with expanding the science is now a more conventional practice.

Here's a good Center for Disease Control video about the PrEP drug. Knowledge is still power.

What is PrEP? from Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


This has been a week of such grief and such joy, I'm just about wrung out. Both images in this post are true. We have a choice which is most potent.
Black church burned in Charlotte, NC

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Supreme Court gets it right

Nobody gets to vote on anyone's marriage any longer!

It's sad to see the Republican presidential scrum defaulting to the position that marriage equality should have been decided state by state. There's a history to that sort of appeal:
  • When the more populous and prosperous section of the nation turned against slavery in the 1840s and '50s, Southern slave interests turned to state nullification and then secession preserve their property in human beings.
  • Having lost their war for slavery, the same forces claimed "states' rights" for their imposition of segregation and disempowerment on their Black populations.
  • When the Black civil rights movement rose up against continuing repression in the 1950s and '60s, Southern governors claimed "states' rights" to exempt their region from providing equal opportunity and justice under law.
"States' rights" has been the last recourse of those who reject the full inclusion of all of us in the national experiment.

We might imagine and even hope that federalism could be something other than a shield that protects privilege and inequality. But that is not how our history has worked.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Yeah! Obamacare is here to stay

... at least if the next President is a Democrat.

“In America health care is not a privilege for a few but a right for all,’’ Mr. Obama declared in the Rose Garden after the Supreme Court decision.

It was nice to hear the Prez make the moral case for providing health care to all, in addition to the prudential and economic cases. It would also be nice if health care were available to all -- but the ACA is step in that direction.

The health policy wonks are chattering about a study of a naturally occurring experiment: Oregon lacked the funds to extend Medicaid to an entire group that would have been eligible, so it assigned the small number of available slots by lottery. Health economists thus could study the difference in health outcomes between the winners and the much larger population of losers. Guess what? The winners were not (over a short period) any healthier now that they could see doctors. But they were happier and more financially secure. Well duh ...

Ezra Klein points out the limits of this study clearly:

... the paper can't answer whether there are gains from giving people actual Medicaid insurance rather than leaving them to whatever patchwork, uncertain system of care they're using now. That is to say, it doesn't even try to estimate how much it's worth to be able to see a doctor when you need one, as opposed to when the situation is so dire you simply rush to the ER; it doesn't know how to value the long-term health benefits of stable care or the differences in the kind of care that the insured and the uninsured get; it has no formula for weighing what it means for John to be able to get treatment without begging his brother to lend him cash.

Second, there is real cost — in anxiety and terror, as well as in money — to families scrambling to come up with the money to pay for heart medication or chemotherapy. There's real cost to parents who need to beg their local church group to help pay for their child's medicine. How do we value the relief a family gets — both emotional and financial — of knowing a child can get the medical care he or she needs? This study can't measure that.

Third, the study can't test the value we, as a society, place on everyone being able to go to the doctor when they need medical care. As an example, Social Security offsets a certain amount of support children used to provide for their parents. So a dollar in Social Security is not worth a full dollar to Social Security's beneficiaries, because it partially replaces support they would have gotten anyway. But as a society, we've decided it's really, really important for the elderly to have guaranteed income, and we are willing to pay the cost of that guarantee.

And there's another potential benefit from Obamacare's survival that I've written about here -- and about which I have not found much research. Before the ACA passed, a student of health economics who has made it his business to understand these things assured me that having health insurance was close to a complete predictor of being registered to vote. He didn't know why, but he'd seen the figures.

Well, millions more citizens now have and will have insurance. Might this not lead to increased voter registration? Certainly most people who can manage to sign up for a policy online are demonstrating the contemporary skills that might suggest they can navigate the various registration mazes set up by the states. Under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), the exchanges should be pointing their users toward whatever state facilities exist for registration. Just maybe, they'll use them.

Nobody could object to that ... except possibly Republicans who can't compete if everyone is included.

Friday cat blogging

I thought I was going to sit down to work -- but there was an obstacle.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Agist junk mail rant

I get mail. Not just email, either. Some of it provides employment to the letter carriers of the US Postal Service. I don't mind that; they need those union jobs.

Recently I received this oddly shaped gargantuan envelope. The New Yorker is included in the picture for size.

On the envelope was a personalized message.

There was a return envelope which will go back today, by snail mail, to "Max Richtman" with this note.

Dear Mr. Richtman,
I am fully in sympathy with the proclaimed goals of the "National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. These vital, earned, benefits are one of our country's great achievements. In too many respects, we in the United States do not seem to know that the only legitimate purpose of a country is to care for its citizens. All of us, not just the one percent.

Any politician who threatens these programs will be hearing directly from me as well as finding me supporting any worthy challenger. This is bottom line stuff. In fact, most politicians I support already back extending Social Security rather than cutting it.

But YOU are NOT going to get from me your petition and a donation, a "membership renewal." Your outfit has repeatedly sent me expensive direct mail packages designed to scare money out of older citizens. These communications treat us as credulous suckers.

To have any chance of getting money from me, you would have to explain that your efforts are part of a political strategy for extending Social Security and for protecting Medicare by extending a single payer system to ALL residents of the country. We need that sort of leadership from Washington advocacy outfits, not creepy direct mail appeals.

And you would reach me through modern communication media. I'm sure you have my email address. True, I won't get it if my filters decide you are sending spam because you fill the letter with attachments and other frills, but that is your problem. Stop wasting trees on junk mail. And please remove me from you direct mail list.

Indeed, sincerely,
One annoyed elder!

I do not expect this to stop the flow ... but I've tried.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It's confusing ...

My ATM encourages me to celebrate gay pride.

I remain a little bemused by this development. Happy about it, of course. It is nice being affirmed.

But I remember all too well when to be visible as gay or lesbian was to risk verbal abuse and even violence.

These days, our visibility is a sign to urban U.S. liberals that, despite so many indications to the contrary, this country eventually gets it right. In San Francisco, we swim in a warm bath of loving approval and liberal self-satisfaction.

San Franciscans know there are intolerant regions out there somewhere in the U.S. hinterland. In those places, gay kids get thrown out of their families. (They still migrate to San Francisco; without money, they live hard lives.) In those places, it is still tough for gay immigrants and for gay couples of color (because most everywhere, it is tough for ALL immigrants and people of color.) In those places, trans-folk who are visible have a hard time getting and keeping jobs. (That's too often true here too, but we don't think much about it.)

We've come a long way; and the big "we" that really includes everyone hasn't yet come as far as it should. It's confusing and also good.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Saving water

Nice to see that the park authorities at Rodeo Beach have shut down the rinsing stations in response to the California drought. Since the area is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, I'm not sure the beach is subject to the state rules -- but since I think the effective purpose of the state rules is to make us all more thoughtful about saving water, the move seems all to the good.

On the subject of saving water, I was much heartened by this Mother Jones article about the U.S. Open Golf Championship: "The Best Golfers in the World Are Playing on a Poop-Watered Course."

According to the Alliance for Water Efficiency, a typical golf course soaks up between 100,000 and one million gallons of water a week; golf courses in California's Palm Springs use on average 800,000 gallons per day—more water than an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Golf resorts in dry states facing government-mandated water reductions and drought-shaming have begun to find ways to use recycled water and minimize the area they irrigate.

Chambers Bay [in Washington State] -- located in a region that's also suffering from drought -- aims to change golf courses' wasteful reputation. The course is irrigated with reclaimed wastewater and fertilized with sewage from a nearby treatment plant. The groundskeepers landscape with native plants and have cleaned up land and marine habitats for local wildlife. Oh, and that brown grass everyone is fussing over? That's Fescue, a drought resistant grass well-adapted to the relatively cool climate of Western Washington.

My trips to Hawaii, where so much land is given over to golf courses groomed with non-native European grasses, have made me instinctively hostile to most courses. But perhaps the sport can adapt ...

Monday, June 22, 2015

May there be rest for the weary and comfort for the suffering

After a weekend of grief and rage, I could post more here about the violence and cruelty of my nation -- or I could attend Compline. I opted for Compline.

Compline is an evening contemplative service in which we acknowledge that we can do no more about the cares of the day and consign ourselves in trust to God's care for the night to come.

... protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life my rest in you eternal changelessness ...

Endersnight is offering this contemplative service at St. John the Evangelist in the Mission.

Taking its name from the 15th-century century English carol “This Enders Night,” Endersnight is an a cappella vocal ensemble specializing in the performance of sacred polyphonic choral repertoire of the 14­th-16th centuries. Members of the choir are veterans of the leading professional choral groups of the San Francisco Bay Area, including Chanticleer, San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Philharmonia Baroque Chorale, American Bach Soloists, Clerestory, Volti and the Grace Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys, among others. They come together out of camaraderie, a passion for early choral music and a shared appreciation for liturgical tradition. Though professional musicians, the singers of Endersnight have volunteered to take part in the birth of Night Music at St. John’s.

Now it is night; tomorrow is another day.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Unsettled consciences

Last week Pope Francis' much anticipated encyclical on climate change was released. The pope enjoins us to take care of what is happening in front of our noses. Will anyone listen? One of my favorite observers of U.S. politics mused:

... there’s a lot to be said for the power to unsettle consciences.

In the interests of my own edification and Erudite Partner's new book project, I'm reading Guantanamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi's account of his rendition and torture by my government between 2000 and 2004. Slahi is still locked up at Gitmo, despite a federal judge ruling in 2010 that the government's evidence was:

"so attenuated, or so tainted by coercion and mistreatment, or so classified, that it cannot support a criminal prosecution.”

The government didn't like that result and has succeeded in stymieing the case. Slahi has now been in U.S. custody for 13 years, with no criminal conviction and no end in sight.

I was in no hurry to read this book. Who wants to read details of torture and of my government behaving badly? But at length, I began. And in the introduction I came across this anecdote about Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch who was assigned by his Marine Corps superiors to prosecute Slahi (first brought forward by reporter Jess Bravin in the the Wall Street Journal and reproduced here via an account from America Magazine.) Couch learned that Slahi was not only physically and mentally abused under a regime approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, he had also been told his mother would be brought to Guantanamo and gang raped. Couch's conscience was evidently unsettled.

Mr. Bravin deftly portrays the moral anguish of Colonel Couch... [A]t a Sunday church service in Falls Church, Va., during a routine renewal of baptismal promises, the questions began to take hold of him. “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” All persons included Mr. Slahi, Colonel Couch realized. Mr. Bravin writes: “He was surrounded by people, but suddenly Couch felt very, very small. It was as if he stood alone in a dark, cavernous hall, a bright, single shaft of light illuminating him, unseen persons, or powers, awaiting his answer.” United with those around him, he responded, “I will. With God’s help.”

Colonel Couch decided to drop the case against Mr. Slahi. A 9/11 case. “I’d hate to say it, but being a Christian is gonna trump being an American,” he explained.

I thought that a book marred by over 2500 black bars indicating U.S. government redactions from the text would make a miserable audio book. I was absolutely wrong. Editor Larry Siems' footnotes clarify what is left out -- such as nearly every reference to female guards and interrogators. A terrific cast of readers enact Guantanamo Diary so as to preserve Slahi's lively personal witness. Though tortured within an inch of his life, he comes across as an appealing smart ass. English is his fourth language, learned in custody, after he'd absorbed Arabic and French in his native Mauritania and German while studying in that country. He wields his new tongue vividly. It is his interrogators who often come across as ignorant and verbally inept dumb clucks. Yet nearly everywhere his captors carry him, he finds remnants of humanity among some soldiers and guards.

You do not need to be exceptionally brave to read this book, just appropriately unsettled.

My father as a young fellow

I would make this image just over 100 years old. He loved his "weenie pups," though we only ever had cats ... he was no fan of Father's Day, but I miss him.
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