Wednesday, May 06, 2015

How-to books are nothing new

I wonder if the bookstore has adopted the advice in these. Encountered here:
345 Judah St, San Francisco
No website I can find. I still love this city.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Rights we don't use can erode

The law says we can photograph and film law enforcement officers while they are about the people's business. This often feels a bit risky. The ACLU in California is making it easier.

Their new iPhone app lets anyone shoot and automatically upload of interactions between cops and the rest of us. The app's best feature is that all it takes is one tap on the screen to send the recording off through the ether; unless police departments have the capacity to jam (do they?) the ACLU has it and there is no longer any reason for the cops to attack the phone. Maybe they'll even figure that out someday if enough of us wander around equipped to make instant reports?

I've installed the app. It seems simple to operate; there's a test feature and everything seems to work as described. If you allow the phone to geo-locate, it can even point you to locations where others using it are filming. There's a video tutorial here.
I can imagine using this even though I'm just an old white lady who happens to live in a conflicted neighborhood. Twice in the last couple of months I've observed police-civilian interactions that might have been worth recording. Having this option will likely make me more inclined to film next time -- that's probably part of the point for the developers.

Monday, May 04, 2015

So what are we doing?

Last week a friend responded to events in Baltimore (and in Ferguson and in Tulsa and in South Carolina and in Cleveland and on Staten Island and in the 100s of other less well known locations in which Black lives have visibly not mattered at all):

I am so discouraged. We should not be continuing to fight these fights after almost half a century.

She's right of course (though I might extend the period involved for a couple of hundred years). And like most people likely to read here, she isn't the kind to actually give up.

In fact, burning buildings in Baltimore served as enough of a heads-up to the powers-that-be in that city to get some charges entered against the cops who had a role in Freddie Gray's death. So that's something.

But most of us aren't going out to riot. Been there, done that, but that's for very young people who move rapidly and believe themselves immortal (if not simply worthless). For the rest of us, there have to be other answers.

The Miami Herald's columnist Leonard Pitts is projecting a series of columns on what ordinary folks can do. Here's part of one, quoting his friend the Rev. Tony Lee's advice to a middle aged white woman:

I have a framework for people like her and for others,” said Lee. “It’s educate, advocate and participate.

"Educate means to get educated on the issue. A lot of times, what will happen can end up having a lot of blind spots because you haven’t educated yourself on the issues... As she’s becoming more informed, start talking to the people in her life. She should never minimize what it means to talk to people who are around her, people that she daily deals with...."

Having educated herself, he said, she should advocate, i.e., start “to deal with and talk about these issues and how she feels about them to people who are in decision-making authority in her region, whether it’s her local lawmakers or even her national representatives.

“Just get connected,” he said. “All organizations can use volunteers, [even if] it’s just to come in and say, ‘I’d love to work the phones for you all for a couple of hours a week.’ But find a space to participate. The other piece of participation is to be able to give. Many of the organizations in her region and nationally, need resources to be able to do the work...Never think that any gift is too small.”

Pitts concludes:

It is, admittedly, not an agenda as immediately and viscerally gratifying as street protest. But it highlights a salient truth about American social transformation.

On the street is where the change is demanded. At the table is where it is made.

That last is hard for anyone who has felt the adrenaline rush of releasing the rage and pain on the streets. And change almost never comes without people willing to take it to the streets.

But it also requires others -- lawyers, citizen advocates, financial contributors -- who build the infrastructure to keep the heat on the system when the protesters are resting at home. So what are we doing?

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The Vatican's tin ear

It looks to me as if the Catholic Church has decided to make a Sarah Palin play. What do I mean by that? A "Sarah Palin play" is a symbolic act to advance a cause based on so little comprehension of the target audience that it backfires on the mover. In 2008 John McCain had a vague sense that he wasn't getting the level of white women's support that the GOP needed to win the presidency. So he pulled the sassy, brainless half-term governor of Alaska out of obscurity and loosed her on the nation, thinking he'd fixed his gender gap. We've seen how that went.

The upcoming sanctification of Franciscan Padre Junipero Serra seems a Sarah Palin play. Apparently the people who advise the Vatican on such things think they can pass off the European Spaniard who founded the California missions as the forerunner of contemporary Latinos and Spanish-speaking immigrants who may (or may not) feel oppressed within Anglo U.S. culture. This seems analogous to the notion in the dumber precincts of the GOP that all they have to do to overcome the distrust they've sown among Latinos through years of xenophobic calls to deport tia and abuela is put up a Cuban face for a candidate.

Father Serra was a man of his time, building the infrastructure to convert a heathen land and make the natives into good, obedient servants of the Spanish monarchy and its armies. The substantial native population of Californian, the most dense in North America before European contact, consisted of ignorant children in Serra's understanding of the world. Once they accepted his God, they were to be locked away from their own culture and from their families and put to work. If they resisted (and they did), they could be whipped, beaten or killed.

Serra may not have been intentionally cruel, but the Spanish invaders and the diseases they brought with them killed of 5 out of 6 of the indigenous people of California within 100 years. More than 5,700 Indian bodies from that period are buried under church buildings at Mission Dolores in San Francisco; the overall death toll of Spanish conquest was likely over 200,000. The coming of the Spanish to California achieved what we now call genocide. Not surprisingly, the descendants of the survivors aren't applauding the Franciscan's canonization.
But the Vatican tin ear demonstrated by the Serra canonization goes far beyond the understandable protestations of native survivors of the European colonial genocide. Professor Guzman Carriquiry, Secretary in charge of the Vice-Presidency of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, a Uruguayan, insists that Padre Serra is an inspiring model for U.S. Latino Catholics today.

... the canonization of Serra should help more people recognize the contributions Hispanics have made and continue to make. ...

"And it will allow many millions of Hispanics who live in the United States to free themselves of a mentality that says they are barely tolerated and frequently discriminated against foreigners on the margins of society," he said. Instead they should see themselves "in continuation with a line of Hispanics who for centuries have inhabited large areas of what is now the southwestern, central and eastern United States. They can rightly affirm, 'We are Americans,' without having to abandon their best cultural and religious traditions."

This is pretty tangled. While some migrants from south of the border may identify with the Euro-Spanish part of their ancestry, others very often think of themselves as victims of the Spanish empire that the founders of their countries threw off in the early 19th century. For a significant number of newcomers from southern Mexico and Central America even today, Spanish is a second language to some indigenous tongue.

Most U.S. Latinos are nominally Catholic -- but are they likely to identify with a Spanish cleric who forcibly converted Indians and built a colonial economy? Or is Serra just another European imposition erasing their history?

All photos from a polite gathering of protest outside Mission Dolores on Saturday, May 2.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Spring time in the city

As the days get longer, these herons venture away from their nests at Stowe Lake ...

to take a walk in Golden Gate Park.

This one was walking near the bay at Crissy Field. They all seem quite certain that no predator is going to interrupt their strolls.

Friday, May 01, 2015

A good thought for International Workers Day

Around here, May Day has largely merged with the demand for immigrant rights -- and that's not surprising, given who constitutes the low wage working class in California these days.

The unions, the housing activists, and people demanding police accountability are rallying together today.

Marriage arguments quibble

San Francisco florists see opportunity
I hadn't been paying much attention to the marriage equality arguments before the Supremes this week. Oh sure -- 14 states are hold-outs and many, many gays and lesbians still live with diminished legal rights as a result. And in many of the states where gays can legally get married, we can still be fired for our sexual orientation. (We also have no protection against employment discrimination under federal law. Thank the Republican Congress.) There's still a lot of legal cleanup to be won.

But full equality is on the way, court or no court. As Linda Greenhouse says "reality has outpaced doctrine, and the court’s only role is to catch up."

When I do glance through the coverage, I can still be surprised by inane commentary coming from supposedly informed sources. In particular this, from Jeffery Toobin:
Justice Anthony Kennedy gave voice to an issue of real concern when he mused, toward the beginning of the argument, about just how quickly the country was changing, and about the part the Supreme Court should play. “One of the problems is, when you think about these cases and the word that keeps coming back to me, in this case, is ‘millennia.’ ” By that, Kennedy meant that the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman has been around for thousands of years. “This definition has been with us for millennia. And it’s very difficult for the Court to say, ‘Oh, well, we know better.’ ”
What Kennedy is saying -- and what Toobin passes on without correction -- is simply hogwash.

"Marriage" in the form Kennedy seems to be thinking about is maybe a couple of hundred years old. If that. Heterosexual pair bonds have obviously existed as long as there have been humans. We have ancestors. But these people organized themselves in all sorts of arrangements because "marriage" is a construct that people use to regulate kinship, economic and cultural relationships. In Kennedy's "millennia," "marriage" has frequently served dominant males to establish paternity and power -- and had little to do with either exclusive pair bonding or the wants of individual participants (especially female individuals.) Among the working strata of most human societies (and that's just about everyone) "marriage" has been a productive economic unit within which people toiled in separate (and usually unequal) spheres.

The cozy couples of Kennedy's imagination are mostly a modern western European invention. It's very human of us that we are inventing some additional forms.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Forty years ago ... last flight out of Saigon

The war that formed the awful backdrop of my young adulthood ended like this on April 30, 1975.

Our elites have still not taken the lesson: no attempt by the United States to install an enduring regime by direct force in someone else's country has taken root since 1945 -- except perhaps in fly-speck Grenada. Even our less direct interventions have come to little except carnage and oppression.

As the generation dies off that saw the United States facilitating the recovery of western Europe and Japan from militarist and fascist barbarism in the mid-20th century, can we accept that this age no longer tolerates empire?

Photo via Wikipedia.

Coordinated cries for justice

Israeli activists demonstrate across from the Prime Minister's Residence demanding to end the blockade on Gaza, April 29, 2015 (photo credit: Free Jerusalem Facebook page)

According to the Jerusalem Times:

Sahar Vardi, a 24-year-old history student at Hebrew University wearing a black t-shirt reading “Gaza my dear” in Hebrew and Arabic, said she and a group of activist friends organized the Jerusalem protest after being asked to do so by a female student in Gaza with whom she was in touch through Facebook and Skype. ...

“The common denominator of all the people I speak to in Gaza is that they’re in despair,” Vardi said later. “That’s why this event gives me so much hope. Here are young Gazans, many of whom never left the Strip, who despite everything believe in protest and the ability to change. I think it’s incredible.”

... “We were specifically asked by the Gazans to bring their voice to Israel,” she said. “That’s impressive.”

In San Francisco, the unflagging activists of Jewish Voice for Peace answered the Gazan's call in front of the barricaded Israeli consulate downtown.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

So Bernie is stepping up to challenge the Clinton coronation ...

Thanks Bernie. It would be great if the Vermont independent Senator sticks out the primaries until California votes on June 7, 2016. I would have someone to vote for. It's hard to imagine he'll last that long. Running and not winning is expensive and he's not likely to attract his own sugar daddy.

Vermont Public Radio reports he'll announce Thursday. Since he's been haunting early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, this is no surprise.

Sanders' basic message will be that the middle class in America has been decimated in the past two decades while wealthy people and corporations have flourished.

His opposition to a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (T.P.P.) shows how he plans to frame this key issue of his campaign.

"If you want to understand why the middle class in America is disappearing and why we have more wealth and income inequality in America than we have had since the late 1920s, you have to address the issue of trade,” Sanders said in a phone interview on April 23.

Oddly enough I once worked on a campaign in which Bernie was one of our opponents. He lost. So did my guy, a former governor and antiwar Democrat, Phil Hoff. Vermont sent an undistinguished incumbent Republican named Prouty to sit in the Senate. Prouty died in office the next year, 1971. Vermont continued its drift to the left, giving the Senate its only "democratic Socialist" in 2006.
I'm particularly glad to see Sanders stepping us as events in Baltimore are spotlighting Martin O'Malley's history as the guy who brought "zero tolerance" policing to that unhappy community. When you empower the police to stop, frisk, arrest, and harass and occasionally kill Black citizens, eventually you get riots. That's just the way of world.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What's color got to do with it?

Make no mistake, Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America by Richard Parker is a terrible book -- disorganized, repetitive, under-edited and unconvincing. That's too bad, because Parker raises and touches on what are probably many of the appropriate issues in a book about contemporary Texas: migration, racial and ethnic diversity, demographic change, urbanization, the legacies of do-nothing Republican governments, under-funded public education, and climate change in the form of drought. Too bad he doesn't have much that's cogent to say about this hodgepodge.

His method is journalistic. He introduces his reader to a cast of individuals who serve as stand-ins for his themes. "Carla Ramos" (I don't know if this is a real name or a pseudonym) serves as an instance of the emerging generation of Latinos. And in telling her story, he tosses off an anecdote that should inspire considerable speculation on a vital topic about which Parker is seemingly oblivious.

By the final months of 2013, Carla Ramos was living with her boyfriend in East Austin. Somehow the ethnicity of the young gentry was lost on the locals. She laughed: "They call us 'the white people'. They point to our house and say, 'Look, that's where the white people live.'"

Those remarks could use some unpacking that Parker doesn't offer.

Are these "locals" African Americans who are being displaced by Latinos? Or are these "locals" Latinos -- perhaps recent migrants or very low income workers -- who take Carla's ambition and relative affluence as a markers of race rather than class? Do "Hispanics" become "white" when they acquire education and more money? What is the role of African Americans -- a population whose absolute numbers are holding steady in both Austin and the state but declining precipitously in share of the population? Is "race" in Texas still defined in the ancestral fashion of this country as being determined by proximity in color and economic position to African Americans?

Parker offers next to nothing on these questions. I'm not ready to stipulate that Texas or the rest of the country is on its way to escaping them.

Majority supports the Iran deal

We might see more of this if peace breaks out. 

A couple of days ago I created a list of obvious issues on which Republican party orthodoxy is out of step with a majority of us. It wasn't hard. The list is long.

But I didn't include any foreign policy concerns because I wasn't sure the data was quite as clear in that arena. Now I learn I was wrong.

The Quinnipiac University National Poll reports that:
American voters support 58 - 33 percent the preliminary agreement with Iran to restrict that country's nuclear program, according to a Quinnipiac University National poll released today.
The agreement worries respondents; they are apparently not sure that Iran will keep its word. But they clearly want this to work.

Despite all our residual hawkery, apparently the lesson of Bush's failed wars still has wide influence. I'm sure that war-mongering elites and the media could frighten many of us into supporting new dumb wars. But for the moment, we're still somewhat resistant.

Photo: German women play Iranian women in Tehran, 2007.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Kathmandu on my mind

I sit in San Francisco where the earth has been known to shake and think about Nepal. This is the Boudhanath Stupa as it looked when I visited in 2010. It is a world heritage site, very much a place of spiritual power. There are reports that the earthquake damaged the spire above the eyes and some of the adjacent buildings and smaller stupas.

This shot shows the tower that is reported damaged.

These worshipers circumambulated continuously. I remember thinking that I wondered whether the brick buildings surrounding the stupa could survive a quake. The space is cramped. The few available pictures on the news don't answer that question.

This was Patan Durbar Square in 2010. The taller brick buildings on the right are now piles of rubble. The stupa on the left seems to have survived the quake. I took this picture at midday, roughly the time the earthquake struck.

Patan was a busy place.

This construction worker was tying steel reinforcement on a new building, exactly the sort of construction that a city located on a fault requires. Note that he is doing the work in flip-flops. OSHA would not approve.

The Nepalese are tough and resilient. They have to be. Essentially there is no government, only erratic electricity, hardly any roads. It will be weeks before there is a full picture of what happened to people outside the big city, closer to the epicenter of the quake.

Mercy Corps seems to be on the ground in Kathmandu with local staff. So is Oxfam.
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