Friday, July 22, 2016

On the run

When this post appears, I'll be cleansing the foul stench of the Cleveland GOP hate-fest from my soul, running 31 miles over these Marin Country hills. I'm running this long, beautiful, hilly course because I want to -- and to benefit the work of Californians for Justice, developing leaders of future struggles.

The EP and the FoN (Force of Nature: that's our long-time comrade and house partner) are serving as support crew, meeting me at the infrequent road crossings with liquids and snacks.

The fundraising has gone very well, drawing in 55 donors and well over $4000 so far. I'll leave the donation page up til the end of the month if anyone realizes they meant to give a bit and forgot ...

This blog will be offline on Saturday, but I promise a full report from the run as soon as I'm feeling able. And then back to the usual horrific moments and the occasional delightful surprise.

Friday cat blogging

Tokyo and Morty practicing proximity without violence, if not exactly amity.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

But why do they plagiarize?

My Erudite Partner teaches undergraduates at a liberal arts college. Every semester while grading papers, she fumes: "how can they plagiarize in an ethics class?'

But they do. As a consequence, the college makes them submit their papers by way of an internet portal called It's not as if they can't see what their instructors will see; if Turnitin finds sections that replicate something else somewhere on the internet, including in a huge database of student papers, it flags it for the student who can clean up their paper before passing it on to the professor.
Melania Trump neglected to use Turnitin. And we now know she copied from Michelle Obama's 2008 speech introducing herself as the candidate's wife.

Turnitin diagnoses three types of plagiarism in the Trump speech:
  • "The 'Clone' type of plagiarism copies another’s work verbatim, word-for-word. ...[in one section Trump included a] Word-for-word Match Count [of] 23 Words. Just to provide some context, ... there is a one in one trillion chance that a sixteen-word phrase matches another phrase of the same length just by coincidence. As the number of words matching increase, the probability of a purely coincidental match goes down by orders of magnitude. "
  • "'find and replace' plagiarism,... where a few key words or phrases are changed, but the text retains the content or meaning of the copied work.' [Pictured above.]
  • "The Question of Intent ... More than just the copying of words, a comparison of Melania’s and Michelle’s speeches follows the same sequence of thoughts and ideas. To an educator, this [suggests] intent. "
Trump is not alone in thinking no one would notice. Even though students can see for themselves whether EP is going to find they have plagiarized, they nonetheless submit work that reveals copying. She has never figured out what they were thinking. In fact, it seems they weren't thinking, they were just going through the motions of scholarship in a state of incoherent panic.

Does a current political campaign spectacle being foisted on the country also arise from incoherent panic? So it seems. Can we all keep from being drawn into this vortex of fear, hatred, and confusion? Let's try our hardest.
EP intends to teach the Melania Trump prat fall in the autumn semester. It seems likely she'll serve as an example to thousands of students nationwide.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why tacky matters

Gay bashing seems to have taken second place to race bashing and all-purpose woman hatred among the Republicans this year, but I found this gay male slant on meaning of the Republican nominee's interior decorating right on point.

Josh Baro had a job with the New York Times' Upshot, but left to to be able to speak his mind during this campaign writing editorial commentary for the Business Insider.

I have sometimes gotten pushback when I have, on Twitter, described Trump's racist and sexist comments as "tacky." This word may sound like it minimizes how bad Trump is, since it's a word we also use to describe tasteless clothes and ugly chairs. Shouldn't we call Trump offensive, scary, divisive, dangerous?

Of course Trump is all of those things, but it is important to also say that he is tacky, and that his bigotry is tacky, because often the only thing that stops people from behaving like Trump is their sense that doing so would be tacky, and that tackiness is to be avoided.

That is, people often stop themselves from saying bigoted things not because they have goodness in their hearts, but because they don't want to be looked at askance.

I worry about this especially as a gay man. Let's be real: A lot of people have a visceral, gut-level discomfort with homosexuality. Over the last few decades, gays have come to be treated better in part because many people's gut feelings have changed. But partly, they have changed because people have decided, consciously, that their gut feelings about gay people are wrong, and that they should resist the temptation to express those feelings.

And partly, expressed attitudes about gays have changed because people think their anti-gay feelings have become socially unacceptable, and so they should stifle themselves and not express them, even if they still think those feelings are right.

Of course, what I most want is for people to not have a problem with me as a gay man, but I'll count any of the shifts described above as positive. They're especially positive because a generation of parents suppressing their gut-level dislike of gays have managed to raise another generation that, by and large, is getting to adulthood without those negative feelings at all.

On acceptance of gays, lots of Americans have been faking it until they make it — and I suspect the phenomenon is similar for the suppression and reduction of all sorts of prejudices and bigotries.

Donald Trump threatens to interfere with this process by telling Americans we don't have to suppress our basest instincts — that it is OK to let our vulgar flags fly.

Trumpian interior photo stolen from the Daily Mail.

A Clinton ad in response to the Republican primal scream in Cleveland

This is well done. There are places it might play well -- New England maybe and among some mainline white Protestants.
But how many of these thoughtful old guys are there left? That's a real question. I can imagine where to find them, but I haven't been in those places in years. Let's hope enough of them can overcome decades of conditioning to walk away from what has become the party of fear and hate.

Half of white mainline Protestants prefer Trump (50%), while about four-in-ten (39%) favor Clinton.

Pew Research

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How long must we wait for the District Attorney to do his job?

City residents gathered this morning on the steps of the "Hall of Justice" demanding that officers of the San Francisco Police Department be charged with murder for shooting Amilcar Perez Lopez in the back. According to witnesses, the young Guatemalan ran away from strange men who tackled him in the street -- those men turned out to be plainclothes cops. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon has been sitting on the case for 18 months.

Recently the D.A. told Fr. Richard Smith, speaking here, that the SFPD failed to notify his office there had been an officer-involved shooting, leaving his people to learn of the event on the evening news. Further, the SFPD directed the Medical Examiner to remove Amilcar's body before the DA's team could investigate the crime scene for possible criminal conduct. Our current interim police chief (the last one quickly retired after another unsupportable police killing in June) denies the D.A. said any such thing, but Smith preserved this message from Gascon:
The coalition seeking Justice4Amilcar was joined by others calling out recent SFPD killings, including the parents of Alex Nieto ...

... a cousin and a brother of Luis Gongoro Pat ...

... religious leaders from Faith in Action and a spokesperson the Mario Woods coalition ...

... and Dr. Margaret Stafford of San Francisco General Hospital speaking for the Do No Harm coalition of public health care professionals.

Still D.A. Gascon has not acted on police shootings ... how long must families wait? How long?

Extrajudicial execution: it's not just something cops do too often

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claims this gentleman, Fethullah Gulen, was responsible for the coup attempt by the military to overthrow him last week. Gulen lives in rural Pennsylvania.

Glenn Greenwald asks:

In light of the presence on U.S. soil of someone the Turkish government regards as a “terrorist” and a direct threat to its national security, would Turkey be justified in dispatching a weaponized drone over Pennsylvania to find and kill Gulen if the U.S. continues to refuse to turn him over ...?

This question makes a good introduction to Erudite Partner's current article on the legal and moral implications of the U.S. policy of remote assassination of perceived enemies in the forever war: The Trojan Drone: An Illegal Military Strategy Disguised as Technological Advance.

Some queers are hungry

We're not all getting married and living happily ever after.

The belief that most L.G.B.T. people are affluent is “one of the most persistent and, frankly, pernicious myths about the L.G.B.T. community,” said Gary J. Gates, who wrote the first report on food insecurity in the L.G.B.T. community and is an author on the new report as well. “It emerged in part from the community itself, as part of a strategy of marketing the population as an attractive consumer market.”

... Ms. Jean, of the Los Angeles L.G.B.T. center, said she planned to use the new report to raise awareness and “raise a ruckus,” and press the local food bank operation to restore the food pantry that used to be at her center.

“I have had government funders over the years say to me things like, ‘Yeah, but you people don’t need it,’” Ms. Jean said. “There’s this myth in our society that gay people are rich, but it’s not the truth. We have this huge swath of people who make less than their straight counterparts, and most people, even in our own community, do not know that.”

New York Times, July 18, 2016

Monday, July 18, 2016

James Lawson describes bringing a nonviolent struggle for justice to scale

We need this after the last two weeks and the probable next two weeks with the GOPers in Cleveland -- and who knows where else? Violence is the air we breathe and is the force that crushes so many in this United States of faltering imperial and capitalist dominance. Yet smart, disciplined, and hope-filled non-violent struggle is also the peoples' antidote to the daily poison.

In 2010, the School of Authentic Journalism brought Reverend Lawson to the Autonomous University of the Yucatan in southern Mexico to share his experience building the non-violent Nashville civil rights movement with Mexican and other international campaigners. His hearers testify that he both educated and inspired.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mr. Sourpuss with Mr. Simper as sidekick

No comment.

Heroism and horrors

Adam Hochschild's big new book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 is just what the subtitle advertises -- the story of U.S. citizens who participated in that confusing, emotionally charged struggle.

Of necessity, that means Hochschild has to provide a narrative of a conflict that unfolded very differently than anything in the experience of most of us. In this one, it was the democratically elected government, the "Republic," which was fighting against the "Nationalists," rebelling colonial army officers whose assumed that label to proclaim themselves the only authentic Spaniards. But that elected government contained liberals, socialists, Moscow-aligned Communists -- and was functionally dependent during its early resistance to the military coup on anarchists who fought for no government at all. Francisco Franco and the other generals were enthusiastic fascists, dependent on feudal estate holders, the Catholic Church, and Hitler and Mussolini. The government won only suspicion from Europe's democracies, England and France, and isolationism from Franklin Roosevelt's United States, so became quickly dependent on the Soviet Union. There were atrocities in this very intimate war committed by both belligerents, though of far greater scale by the Nationalists. (Historian Paul Preston has presented in English the very thorough archival data about these horrors unearthed by Spanish scholars in The Spanish Holocaust.) Franco and the Nationalists triumphed; the Generalissimo became Spain's vicious dictator until his death in 1974.

The Spanish Civil War was an immensely complicated, dramatic, horrible, apparently morally simple but actually multi-layered, mess. Hochschild does a graceful job of presenting enough of this backstory to make some sense of the experiences of U.S. participants. (For a more general history in which U.S. citizens are the bit players they were, I'd suggest Antony Beevor's The Battle for Spain.) He naturally depends on the available written materials from a few of the approximately 3000 U.S. volunteer combatants, the writings of U.S. journalists who covered the war (often on the front pages) for U.S. newspapers, and the records of the Texaco oil magnate who made sure Franco and later Hitler had all the oil they needed. The whole makes a good story.

Unlike U.S. contemporaries, Hochschild makes his readers vitally aware of the social revolution -- the rising of workers and peasants against their class oppressors -- that the Republican government wished it could keep under wraps. Anarchism was a developed ideological current in early 20th century Spain whose adherents were quite capable of holding and experimenting with running the highly developed province of Catalonia. Their trams ran on time and the mail was delivered -- unless there was a political rally or an "essential" point of principle to be argued out.

... idealists had dreamed of a world where wealth would be shared, where workers would own factories and peasants land, and where democracy, in yet-to-be-defined ways, would be far more direct. For some months this had actually happened, above all in Barcelona ....

The bourgeois Republican government and its Communist supporters wanted these bumptious anarchists out of sight, at best. These leaders had a mechanized, industrial war to fight which required foreign equipment and and tight order. Enthusiasm and elected officers were no match for heavy artillery, tanks, and Moorish economic conscripts under Franco. The democracies would never supply an anarchist army and neither would the Communist Soviet Union, the only practical source of weaponry. The anarchists were duly crushed by the Republic.

Hochschild's most acerbic criticism, in a what is a gentle book about horrors, is directed at the war correspondents who sought to make names for themselves in Spain, but missed the anarchists' social experiments. Whether celebrities or sloggers, their reporting stayed within the "Authorized Version of the Spanish Civil War ... [an] easy to understand heroes v. villains narrative ..." which usually contained a heavy dose of romanticized machismo.

The fact that a utopian social revolution might have been an impractical and romantic dream even in peacetime and was surely an impossible one when fighting a terrible war, made it no less worth reporting. Of the many hundreds of correspondents from abroad who passed through Spain during the war, not one showed much interest in the revolution that for months surrounded them ... [even] those like Virginia Cowles. She noted, at least, that the Hotel Florida itself "was in the hands of elevator boys, doormen and clerks, with the restaurant where I ate managed jointly by a group of waiters." ... Not a single one bothered to spend a few days in a Spanish factory or business or estate taken over by its workers, to examine just how the utopian dream was faring in practice. ... Has history ever seen a case where such a huge array of talented reporters ignored such a big story right in front of them?

I'm not sure they (we) do any better today. After all, who ever cares about the workers upon whose labor writers and scholars depend?

The bulk of the book is about the men and the few women who comprised the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Fully twenty percent of these volunteer soldiers never returned from Spain. Most were Communists, many urban workers. The Republic could seldom keep them supplied with arms, not to mention clothed and fed. In general, they had hardly any military training; they learned as they fought. They were often used as shock troops. As the war progressed, they were exposed to near constant artillery and air bombardment for which they had no answer. They were sometimes poorly led; some officers were doctrinaire Communist martinets. If captured, they could expect to be summarily executed as "Reds."

Few American volunteers doubted that they were fighting the first battle of a world war to come ...There seemed a moral clarity about the crisis in Spain. Rapidly advancing fascism cried out for defiance; if not here, where?

Surely Spaniards were right to resist a coup backed by Hitler and Mussolini. But did the Republic become doomed by its entanglement with the Soviet Union, whose government was at least as murderous as the Franco regime? Defenders of the Republic were, in short, fighting for one of the finest of causes beside one of the nastiest of allies .

The "Lincolns" were indeed heroic in a cause they believed in. And if that motivation frayed, they struggled on for their comrades in arms, like all armies. They had little idea what was going on politically behind the lines or internationally, though they knew fascism was an evil to be fought. Their story is still thrilling, even, or perhaps because, we know how it ended.

Hochschild makes clear that he does not share the left orthodoxy of that time -- the idea that, if the democracies had just armed the Republic and Franco been defeated, the catastrophe we call the Second World War could have been averted. Hitler's drive for continental and world domination had to be defeated in its own right, not by proxy.

In the introduction, he does raise a very pertinent question for contemporary U.S. progressives:

For more than half a century now, many members of my own political generation have been strongly opposed to war, and especially to American intervention in the civil wars or internal affairs of other countries, whether in Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iraq, or almost anywhere else. Yet most of us have long thought the world would have been better off if our government had not stood aside from the Spanish Civil War. We've regarded as heroes an earlier generation of Americans who went off to fight in it. This raises the question: are there times when military involvement in a distant conflict is justified?

The book does not return to this question. I belong to the same generation as this author (and have run across him when we were both agitating against the U.S. war on Sandinista Nicaragua). I do have an answer for this: the U.S. since 1945 has been the world's top empire; U.S. interventions have almost exclusively empowered the rich few against the poor majority, and ignorantly and arrogantly trampled upon others' societies and cultures. No, our distant conflicts in my lifetime have done far more harm than good, bringing death and destruction to millions. I find that judgment all too easy. And while our rulers continue to aim for world hegemony, that's not going to change.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday scenes and scenery: San Francisco's Asian-inspired lions

You can see them sprinkled about in most neighborhoods. The purveyors of guardian statuary in this city had multiple regional markets in mind. This grand monster, spotted in Pacific Heights, was in front of some sort of institution; there was no sign. Houses are big up there.

This modest set of household guardians is more common.

I'm not sure what this one was fired in.

The blue jade color is more conventional.

There's no getting by these fellows.

He's pretty ferocious.

This one seems out of some different tradition.

Several of these scrappy fellows guard the entrances to the city's Little Saigon area.

Yes, some of these look to European eyes like dogs, but I don't think I've misidentified them. There is an interesting Chinese Guardian Lions article in Wikipedia that explains that some are even called "Foo Dogs" in English usage.

All photos from my 596 Precincts project.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A surfeit of direct democracy barreling down on Californians

A friend, a relatively recent transplant, commented resignedly to me yesterday: "they don't vote on all this stuff where I come from. It will take a lot of studying up ..." She's right. Californians will face 17(!!) state propositions in November, plus varying numbers of local measures, plus, of course, federal and state candidates for office. Yikes!

We can thank Governor Jerry Brown for the huge number of state props. As I have explained previously, his barely contested re-election in 2014 set the stage for this profusion of ballot measures by effectively lowering the cost of qualifying initiatives.

I'll delve into at least some of these over the next three months, though I imagine I'll never manage to care whether porn actors should be required to wear condoms. No really, that's Prop. 60.

Here's a preliminary look at where the money is playing in this horrendous season of initiatives via Bret Hendry at Fox & Hounds.

It looks as if Big Pharma will dominate the money game in this election, having already spent 38 percent of all that has been spent on all these propositions. They really don't want the state limiting what we'll spend on the drugs the state buys. For further reference, that's Prop. 61 and the sheer willingness of these profiteers to spend to protect their bottom line makes it easy to know which way to vote. No, I'm not scared they'll walk away from California. We're big.

Not only at the federal level, this is going to be a long, nasty election.

Friday cat blogging

This isn't exactly the peaceable kingdom around here. Morty has Tokyo trapped here, but she could just as well be chasing him. There's no visible damage from these encounters, but these are two anxious cats.


Here's what looks like a more equal encounter...

... that ended when the little one jumped at the big guy and drove him off.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Some insights into the crisis of the European Union as revealed by Brexit

Traveling briefly in Croatia and Montenegro last year led me to think more than I had formerly about "Europe." The former country is part of the European Union; the latter is not and eagerly wanted into the club. And now the English want out while the Scots are horrified. A mess indeed.

Following promptings from friends, I've been trying to educate myself.

Tony Judt, a British historian who taught at NYU, first dragged an awareness of central and eastern Europe into my consciousness; like many in the U.S. who came up during the Iron Curtain era, that Europe was a blank in my mind. Then I read his epic Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945 and felt as if I'd had blinders removed.

In 1996 Judt focused his sharp gaze on the European Union, offering A Grand Illusion?: An Essay on Europe. He very much wanted to see this venture succeed:

I am enthusiastically European; no informed person could seriously wish to return to the embattled, mutually antagonistic circle of suspicious and introverted nations that was the European continent in the quite recent past. Whatever moves us away from that Europe is good, and the further the better. But it is one thing to think an outcome desirable, quite another to suppose it possible.

He worried about the "losers" -- people and regions who would be hurt by unmediated application of free markets' "creative destruction" to old economic modes, by what would feel like a tsunami of cultural changes and unfamiliar people, by seeing some of their local democratic autonomy subsumed into the larger whole. Had he lived until 2016, he would have foreseen Brexit and the xenophobia it has unleashed:

... however desirable in principle, an ever-closer bonding of the nations of Europe is impossible in practice, and it is therefore perhaps imprudent to promise it. In arguing for a more modest assessment of Europrospects, and for a continuing recognition of the proper place of the traditional state, I don’t wish to suggest that there is something inherently superior about national institutions over others. But we should recognize the reality of nations and states, and note the risk that, when neglected, they become an electoral resource of virulent nationalists. It may also be true that the old-fashioned nation-state is a better form in which to secure collective loyalties, protect the disadvantaged, enforce a fairer distribution of resources, and compensate for disruptive transnational economic patterns.

He worried in 1996 that

... we shall discover that it has become little more than the politically correct way to paper over local difficulties, as though the mere invocation of the promise of Europe could substitute for solving problems and crises that really affect the place.

Apparently for a majority of English people, he was prescient.
According to the Economist, Dani Rodrik, a Turkish professor at the Kennedy School at Harvard, has named something he calls the "Globalization Trilemna" that sums up discontent with and within the European Union:

In the late 1990s he pointed out that deeper economic integration required harmonisation of laws and regulations across countries. Differences in rules on employment contracts or product-safety requirements, for instance, act as barriers to trade. Indeed, trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership focus more on “non-tariff barriers” than they do on tariff reduction. But the consequences often run counter to popular preferences: the French might find themselves barred from supporting a French-language film industry, for example.

Deeper integration, Mr Rodrik reckoned, will therefore lead either to an erosion of democracy, as national leaders disregard the will of the public, or will cause the dissolution of the nation state, as authority moves to supranational bodies elected to create harmonised rules for everyone to follow. These trade-offs create a “trilemma”, in Mr Rodrik’s view: societies cannot be globally integrated, completely sovereign and democratic -- they can opt for only two of the three.

To this way of looking at things, the English majority in Britain has opted for democracy and sovereignty over integration. This was a vote about where people's values were located; they chose smaller, but for their own known kind.
Thomas Pikety, the French economist whose Capital in the Twenty-First Century meshed so neatly with the Occupy movement's fingering of the One Percent as the source of our increasing inequality, brings a French view to the strains in the European Union. He is even more pessimistic about the Union than Judt, twenty years on.

The legal and political system in which Europe has become ensnared which is ultimately based on the canonisation of free movement and the free market, with no serious counterpart in terms of collective regulation, will lead us straight to a whole series of Brexits.

... if we want to be able to adopt a recovery plan within the Euro zone calmly and democratically, to restructure the debts and adopt a common tax on company profits, etc., then the institutions have to be re-established on a democratic basis. There is a theory that the European institutions reached a state of ultimate perfection with the European constitutional treaty in 2005 (finally adopted in 2008 in the Treaty of Lisbon) and that all would be well if national political leaders and public opinion  finally had a proper understanding of these marvelous institutions and ceased to be foolish Europhobes.

The truth is that the present European institutions are seriously dysfunctional.

What all these authors agree on is that current European (and U.S.) elites are not finding ways to lead their populations through these strains. Quite possibly preserving inward-looking values, democracy, and a globalized capitalist economy is not possible. This is not good for the world. The Europe of the last few decades has been synonymous with civilized society; for it to revert to even petty barbarism would threaten human survival.
I'll give the last word in this collection of thoughts to that wise old currency manipulator and democracy activist George Soros who warns:

If disaffected voters in France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Poland and everywhere else see the EU benefitting their lives, the EU will emerge stronger. If not, it will fall apart faster than leaders and citizens currently realize.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Serena crushes it

We could all use some cheer and Serena William served it up after winning her historic 22nd grand slam tennis title at Wimbledon.
She raised a fist in victory, in an echo of Tommie Smith and John Carlos' gesture of Black pride at the 1968 Olympics.

Here's Vann R. Newkirk II reporting on her post match press conference:

“I feel anyone in my color in particular is of concern. I do have nephews that I’m thinking, ‘Do I have to call them and tell them, don’t go outside. If you get in your car, it might be the last time I see you?’” Serena said. “I don’t think that the answer is to continue to shoot our young black men in the United States.”

... [Her] greatness doesn’t only come from what she accomplished inside the lines; it’s also from what she means outside of them. The most enduring image from Wimbledon won’t be of one of her 13 aces or 39 winners, but of her walking off the court, her hair streaming in the wind, as the crowd cheered on. A single fist, raised.

Appropriate local marketing

It's been a little warmer than it was last weekend, but still ... summer in the city.
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