Saturday, August 27, 2016

As usual, the already disadvantaged are most harmed

This cartoon, from the Working Group on Central and South America's contribution to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of 2014, can stand as a summary of Dr. Richard H. Gammon's dire presentation on the future of Nicaragua offered yesterday to the assembled board of El Porvenir. El Porvenir is a North American-based nonprofit that has worked for 25 years to help rural Nicaraguans gain access to clean and plentiful drinking water.

Warming global temperatures will only make this work more difficult. Drought will become more frequent and enduring, punctuated by deluges that lead to sudden run-offs, bringing floods and increasing loss of fertile soil through erosion. Clear cutting for cattle raising and farming along with burning of trees for stove fuel will decimate forests. And disease bearing insects will multiply. Even if our carbon emissions stop rising in the next decade, most of these impacts are already inevitable.

Long suffering Central Americans, especially in Nicaragua and Honduras, will live with some of the most severe consequences of our addiction to burning fossil fuels for energy. And they still need our help as they struggle to achieve a better quality of life for themselves.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A politician's lot is not a happy one

Aside from being an out of control sex addict, Anthony Weiner comes across in this film as the perfect candidate. He wanted the job of Mayor of New York City and he was willing to do whatever it took to try to win it. If you work in campaigns, that is what you want in a candidate -- a person who really believes that they are God's gift to the office being contested and who will to carry on day and night, despite exhaustion and personal indignities, to prevail. After all, if you are going to work as hard as staff works on a campaign, you might as well go all in.

If you are at all interested in campaigns, Weiner is a delight. Put aside for the moment that you are watching a man who destroyed his wife's dignity for a cheap ego high, and look at it as what running for office is really like. The guy had to make himself appear the answer to the discontents of a great, complex city and he was doing a decent job at it. At the same time, he rather successfully made his run for office seems the best party around in a town where parties are readily available. Footage of Weiner in the LGBT parade and in some kind of Caribbean festival is a joy.

But by lying to the press about his readily uncovered enthusiasm for texting pictures of his dick to admiring women, Weiner sabotaged his grand effort. His crumbling image probably made it possible for a much more creditable progressive, Bill de Blassio ,to win the job of mayor and take a run at some genuine progressive reforms.

Getting serious, the film highlights the disconnect that our electoral system almost ensures between the traits needed to win an election -- egotism and obsessive tenacity -- and the traits need to practice democratic governance -- self-restraint, wisdom, and humility.

When I think about the gulf between the necessary skill sets for running for office and exercising office, I am amazed that we ever select leaders who are more than needy egotists. Yet not infrequently, those who serve in public office do serve. Let's appreciate any who remember they are there for the common good. It's not an easy role.
There seems to be a current controversy over whether Huma Abedin, Weiner's put upon wife, really agreed to the making of this amazing film, but the documentary leaves no doubt that she must have been a willing subject.

Friday cat blogging

This is Anthony Weiner's cat from the film, Weiner. The animal is a bit player in the subject of my next post, which reacts to the documentary.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

On being a certain sort of woman

Maybe it is something about having a woman on the verge of winning the presidency, but I find myself encountering bold discussions of the realities of women's lives with a frequency not prominent for awhile. Or maybe I'm just paying more attention ...

Kristi Coulter offers up a message that is the antithesis of the battered bumpersticker above. Recently having got sober, she calls it as she has lived it as an accomplished young professional.

... And there’s no easy way to be a woman, because, as you may have noticed, there’s no acceptable way to be a woman. And if there’s no acceptable way to be the thing you are, then maybe you drink a little. Or a lot.

... A woman with a single-malt scotch is bold and discerning and might fire you from her life if you fuck with her. A woman with a PBR is a Cool Girl who will not be shamed for belching. A woman drinking MommyJuice wine is saying she’s more than the unpaid labor she gave birth to. The things women drink are signifiers for free time and self-care and conversation — you know, luxuries we can’t afford.

... Is it really that hard, being a First World woman? Is it really so tough to have the career and the spouse and the pets and the herb garden and the core strengthening and the oh-I-just-woke-up-like-this makeup and the face injections and the Uber driver who might possibly be a rapist? Is it so hard to work 10 hours for your rightful 77 percent of a salary, walk home past a drunk who invites you to suck his cock, and turn on the TV to hear the men who run this country talk about protecting you from abortion regret by forcing you to grow children inside your body?

... Maybe women are so busy faking it — to be more like a man at work, more like a porn star in bed, more like 30 at 50 — that we don’t trust our natural responses anymore. Maybe all that wine is an Instagram filter for our own lives, so we don’t see how sallow and cracked they’ve become.

This is absolutely go-read-the-whole-thing writing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Boston politics

Passed through Logan Airport yesterday. Nice to see that Bostonians have their attention focused on the unifying parochial injustice.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Campaign mechanics

This long, painful and yet still significant political season has begun to throw off accounts of developing campaign tactics that should be of great interest to anyone who cares about political mechanics.

First up, Sasha Issenberg, author of The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, writing at Bloomberg Politics. He points out that the Clinton campaign is using a different organizational structure than past presidential field campaigns, grouping target states not by geography, but by similar demographics and similar campaign challenges. In particular, they seem to be throwing resources at one of the hardest problems in contemporary electoral tactics: how to "get out the vote" when increasing numbers of ballots are cast before Election Day.

The reorganization reflects the fact that the calendar, rather than the map, has been growing ever more important. More than one-quarter of Americans who voted in 2012 did so in ways other than visiting a polling place on Election Day, according to data compiled by University of Florida political scientist Michael P. McDonald.

The share of early voters was significantly higher in several key battlegrounds. In Nevada, for example, nearly twice as many 2012 voters cast ballots at in-person early-vote locations than on election day itself. (Another 8 percent of the total electorate voted by mail-in absentee ballot.) In Florida and North Carolina, the early-voting and Election Day electorates were split about evenly.

“You have to run a significantly different campaign—in terms of timing, number of appearances, your paid spend,” said David Plouffe, manager of Obama’s 2008 campaign and an informal adviser to Clinton’s. “For many people in the campaign that are in early-vote states you don’t care about Election Day.”

Making sure you are targeting your turnout resources on people who you want to vote who have not yet voted is a data heavy enterprise. It does no good to be door knocking and calling people who have already voted; you have to reach out to the right targets. This sort of painstaking work can add a point or two to the candidate's total, but organizing to make it happen involves the choice to invest people power and expense in getting it done over a period of several months. Apparently the Clinton campaign is doing just that.

Issenberg further discussed the campaign tactics he observes this year with Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post. He's very complimentary about the Clinton effort:

I've spent a lot of time reporting on how data-driven innovations play out in the field — how campaigns figure out which doors to knock on, which phones to call, etc. What we're seeing in Hillary's Brooklyn headquarters is, in essence, the trickle-up effect of all those innovations: the midlevel corporate structure rearranging itself to better reflect what's going on at ground level in the field.

To me that reflects an institution that is doing a good job of thinking holistically about these innovations: not just as a series of discrete tools, but rethinking the broader structure of this billion-dollar corporation so that its tools are being deployed more efficiently.

For a guy whose expertise is in modern data intensive campaigning, he's quite interesting about what Trump's campaign is up to. Senior Republicans complain that the real estate mogul is hurting the party by not developing a field operation that would enhance their voter data through its contacts. Party voter files are cumulative edifices, each campaign incrementally increasing the quality of what the file shows about supporters. Trump is doing none of this.

Trump is very much a throwback to that old mass-media world — this is a guy who seems to prize being on the cover of Time or featured in "60 Minutes" above anything else — but has also decided to run for president on the cheap. ...

... I'll say that I think Trump has a more coherent worldview about campaigns than many politicians, and his tactics actually do a pretty good job of reflecting his strategic assumptions. He considers campaigns to be purely a candidate-driven, mass-media exercise. One could also say, perhaps less charitably, that he sees his candidacy as an extension of the mechanism of becoming a celebrity: It's about using television to get in front of as large an audience as possible to get as many people as you can to like you. Even as his campaign has grown and changed, he has been remarkably disciplined at not spending much time or money on anything that doesn't reflect that approach.

Now I think that dramatically fails to appreciate the extent to which campaigns are not just about changing people's opinions to get them to like you. Now more than ever, thanks to partisan polarization, campaigns are about modifying the behavior of people who already like you — getting the unregistered to register, mobilizing infrequent voters to turn out. That is best done through targeted communications that don't involve the candidate.

Issenberg doesn't think Trump's vision of a campaign can succeed, but it is interesting to see the yellow-headed blowhard credited with coherence.

Meanwhile, Brian Beutler at the New Republic has published excerpts from an interview with Becky Bond who was part of the team managing Bernie Sander's field campaign in the primary. She describes what you can do with contemporary technology in the seldom experienced situation in which legions of volunteers take the project into their own hands.

We had a lot of people across the country willing to volunteer, but we didn’t have a lot of money in the early days. So we said, “What if we use all these consumer technologies—like Slack and Google apps—to turn volunteers into the staff of the campaign?” We built a virtual call center that allowed volunteers to organize their own phone banks and call Bernie supporters in key states.

Was this a system you devised on the fly?

It started with what we were using to organize ourselves in the office. We learned that even if people didn’t understand how to use Slack, they wanted Bernie to win so much that they were willing to go outside their comfort zone, learn a new technology, and teach it to others.

Did it work?

We gained so many volunteers, we needed to give them other things to do—an amazing challenge to have. In Iowa, the campaign was using text messaging to communicate with volunteers, and we said, “Hey, we can use that at a huge scale.” That’s how we grew the Text for Bernie program to organize millions of supporters. At its height, we had over a thousand volunteers each texting 100 to 200 Bernie voters on election days.

It takes a lot of very committed, inspired people to make this work -- and the Bernie campaign's results suggest it works best in smaller settings in caucus states where a devoted core can have a maximum impact. Time will tell what can be transferred to more humdrum, but essential, campaigns to elect merely "good enough" candidates to local, state and Congressional office. That's what it is going to take if the Bernie eruption is to leave the mark it aims for.

The Beutler interview with Bond is derived from a fascinating attached podcast which is a much deeper dive into Bernie's field organizing.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Martha's Vineyard tick politics

Ticks and tick-borne illnesses are big concerns around this island and in this town that I'm visiting.

Along with other tick-borne diseases, Lyme is endemic to the region, with Massachusetts having among the highest rates in the country — 3,830 confirmed cases in 2014, down from 4,028 in 2009. Island towns have among the highest rates in the state, with Chilmark topping the list. And the actual numbers could be much higher, in part because the only official diagnosis — a red bull’s-eye rash at the point of infection — often doesn’t appear, and lab tests may come back negative either way.

Because New England boasts a culture of popular political participation, ticks and their ill effects have become political issues as well.

Legislators from across the state overcame Republican Governor Charlie Baker's veto in July, enacting a measure almost unanimously which requires insurers to cover long term treatments for Lyme disease. Baker, a former health insurance executive, belongs to a medical camp that questions the science behind long term treatment with antibiotics. But constituents demanded action and won this.

Perhaps more generally usefully, the Martha's Vineyard Boards of Health have been studying the tick situation. The Island’s unofficial tick czar, biologist Richard Johnson, has been making the rounds this summer, encouraging practical steps to avoid bites; permethrin-soaked clothing, tucking pants into socks, and careful self inspection rank high.

But he is also gently trying to prepare the way for an intervention guaranteed to set off a political kerfuffle. The life cycle of ticks (Martha's Vineyard hosts three disease bearing varieties) requires eggs to hatch as nymphs, then feeding on the blood of rodents and passing deer, before maturing in the leaf cover of forests over a winter, and then feasting on any large passing mammal, such as an occasional human but more often, again, on deer. Deer don't get tick-borne illnesses, but people do. The study Johnson works with suggests the way to reduce the tick danger is clear cut: Martha's Vineyard needs to cull the deer population.

Johnson describes the island as a perfect human-created deer breeding habitat; thickly forested areas are gone, while every new home creates open clearings where deer like to feed. Where once the island supported less than a thousand deer, a new survey suggests today there are 5000.

So how to reduce the deer numbers? All Johnson's suggestions are potentially politically fraught.
  • Extend legal deer hunting and bring in experienced hunters.
  • Allow hunting on more private land.
  • And legalize and facilitate distribution of venison to Island food pantries.
Can Island towns agree to such measures which require adjustments to their current culture? It will probably take a lot of discussion, but most everyone understands the risks of the endemic tick-borne illnesses. Fortunately, that New England institution, the town meeting, thrives here, so the talking will be intense.
I don't think anyone here is suggesting what Moises Velasquez-Manoff proposed in the NY Times: bring back cougars! The Island has had an occasional coyote sighting, but has as yet no established, deer-reducing, population of these wild carnivores. If they arrived, farmers with livestock would be up in arms.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Analytical potential not fulfilled

Robert P. Jone is the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). PRRI is a a polling shop which interrogates large samples about religion. In consequence, Jones has all sorts of interesting data about U.S. religiosity. But the book he's made of this -- The End of White Christian America -- is an analytical mess.

The book's title is misleading. As a student of religion, he should have known better than to replicate the facile U.S. journalistic convention that "Christian" means "Protestant." His subject is white-mainline Protestant-affiliated and white Evangelical-affiliated Christians. The U.S. does have a lot of white Protestants. But there are something like 48 million white Catholics in the U.S. as well as a goodly number of Mormons, Eastern Orthodox, and other believers with Christian ancestry like the Friends who rank nowhere in his discussion.

Moreover, for much of the book, the significant descriptive adjective is "white," not "Christian." The Black Church (as Protestant as can be) and Latino Catholic and Latino Protestant churches are not fading away. What's fading away is a white monopoly on national religious hegemony; this trajectory among our religious communities mirrors rather than leads the national demographic transition.

Jones does bring out the old chestnut that Sunday morning is the most segregated moment of the week -- that remains true. But his argument fails to support the idea that white U.S. Protestant Christianity's decline is a consequence of failing to integrate with believers of other colors. It may be true that contemporary "nones" -- the growing category of those without a religious affiliation -- don't feel at ease making a mono-color institution their homeplace, but that's not the data he brings out here. White Protestantism is fading because 1) white people are no longer the only people and 2) many young whites don't see much inspiration in it, looking to other traditions or becoming comfortable identifying as "spiritual but not religious."

And about those "nones" -- it's not clear to me that the U.S. has always been a hyper-religious country, however much notions formed by a particular mid-20th century landscape might claim it was. All those 19th century westward pushing frontier settlers were hardly a faith-filled bunch. The brawling, licentious frontier looked like sordid missionary territory to Eastern churchmen. And those "religious leaders" never quite implanted their "civilizing" influence. It is no accident that the Left Coast is the least religious terrain in the nation.

What Jones never tackles is how class status meshes with the religious landscape he describes.

This might be a better book if Jones had been willing to go there. The mid-20th century Protestant picture is fairly simple, although anyone can bring up isolated counter-examples. Rich and upper middle class white people, if of solid social standing, were mostly mainline Protestants. In fact, if their fortunes rose, they jumped from merely Protestant to "higher" denominations. Lower middle class and working class white people who were Protestants were evangelicals, trending off into Pentecostalism and unaffiliated assemblages. If they were segregationist, and many were, many jumped out of broad denominations like the Southern Baptists into idiosyncratic local evangelical congregations.

The class status of all these groups has been radically unsettled by racial, demographic and economic changes since the 1950s and '60s. No wonder the religious denominations so securely anchored in that landscape are unmoored and waning. For that matter, and here I agree with Jones, no wonder there's such a market for Trumpian nostalgia among some whites.

Someone with a deeper historical and sociological perspective could make a far better book from the data Jones swims among. I look forward to it.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday scenery: Fungi season

This week the Martha's Vineyard 'shrooms have been thrusting up along the paths.

They are hardy critters. Something with legs may have nibbled at that one.

This one seems to make its own feathery form.

Running rooty trails, I'm always looking down for obstacles, so I'm particularly aware of the emergence of the fungi.

They don't last long.

In less than a week, this one had become a landing spot for lichen off the overhanging trees.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Update on Caster Semenya's quest for 800 meter gold

Last Wednesday the South African runner qualified comfortably for the final in the Olympic 800 meter race, her specialty. I continue to marvel at the difference in tone from major media since she first broke through in international track in 2009, dominating as an 18-year-old. Back then, too many commentators made her a tabloid freak. This year, Jere Longman in the New York Times attempts an understanding perspective on the issues raised by her suspected hyperandrogenic body. So what if she simply has naturally higher level of the hormone testosterone than most other women? The Court of Arbitration for Sport realized it could not say.

Did elevated testosterone provide women with a 1 percent competitive advantage? Three percent? More? Available science could not say, the court ruled. It gave the I.A.A.F. two years to try to discern that advantage. The ruling was based on the case of Dutee Chand, a sprinter from India.

The court ruling was the correct one.

As the arbitration panel noted, science has not conclusively shown that elevated testosterone provides women with more of a significant competitive edge than factors like nutrition, access to coaching and training facilities, and other genetic and biological variations.

All Olympians have some exceptional traits. That is why they are elite athletes. A level playing field for everyone remains elusive, perhaps unattainable.

... In a sport once dominated by white Europeans, said Madeleine Pape of Australia, who competed against Semenya in the 2009 world championships, women who have fought so hard for the right to compete and for sustainable financial support can feel threatened by the rising success of a faster competitor. Especially, Pape said, if that athlete is non-gender-conforming and is married to another woman, as Semenya is.

In truth, [women's marathon world record holder Paula] Radcliffe is more of an outlier than Semenya. Radcliffe’s marathon record of 2 hours 15 minutes 25 seconds is about 10 percent slower than the fastest men’s time of 2:02:57. Meanwhile, Semenya’s best performance at 800 meters of 1 minute 55.33 seconds, which is not the world record, is about 12 percent slower than the men’s record of 1:40.91. ...

I remember when women had to fight to be allowed to compete in races longer than sprint distances in the Olympics; the years when women running hard and far was a novelty weren't so long ago. The 800 meter distance was not added to the meet until 1960; longer races had to wait another couple of decades. As distances were added to major track meets, records fell. While men will almost always have a muscle advantage, there is no reason to think that women's records can't fall further, though that may take an athlete with a rare mix of genetics, training, and physical and emotional grit.

I'll be rooting for Semenya to make history in Rio on Saturday night, 8:15 EDT. I'll also be rooting for a world that can appreciate her unique abilities and, whether she wins or loses, marvel at her with respect and grace.

Friday cat blogging

Having one of his humans with him after an absence -- not this human -- is not enough to reduce Morty's resentment at being left behind. Presumably he'll warm up when he is good and ready ...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Lest we think voter suppression only happens in the South ...

Memorial to Hmong service in Fresno, CA. Source.
From a new report by Leah Aden of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense and Educational Fund on tactics used to prevent voting by citizens of color:

Local Level:
In June 2016, in Siskiyou County, the Sheriff visited Hmong property owners and allegedly questioned them about their voter registration status and told those owners that they were believed to have registered illegally and could be arrested if they tried to cast a ballot.

Because Hmong people live in a rural area of the County, their property is given a parcel number rather than a street address, which was why the voter registrations were allegedly called into question. In California, parcel numbers can be used when registering to vote. Purportedly, while registrations of new Hmong voters were allegedly scrutinized, those of white property owners in the same area who also used parcel numbers were not.

Hmong people first came to the U.S. after working with our military in Vietnam against the Communist victors. Early immigrants often worked in agriculture as they had in southeast Asia, though today there are significant Hmong populations in U.S. cities.

Blog pause for reflection

Could the unthinkable have arrived? Could Donald Trump have become simply boring?

Sure, this evil clown is still far too close to power to let down our guard. He's still an inciter of racial hatred. He nourishes bigotry and feeds ignorance daily. He must not become President.

But it sure looks as if he won't. A presidential season which might have been expected to be a cliff-hanger is being made a snoozer by a theatrical bozo. You can say this for Trump: he delivers the unexpected.

Other facets of the political to-and-fro should take center stage for me henceforth. Let's see if I can hold to that.
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