Monday, September 26, 2016

Gridlock time

I do not usually watch made-for-TV political extravaganzas. Most of them, including probably all presidential debates subsequent to Kennedy-Nixon in 1960, amount to little in the longer ebb and flow of politics. But the accident of being where I am located today means I'll have to break my rule and watch this unpleasantness tonight. And probably therefore comment on it tomorrow. It would be more comfortable to simply look away from the train wreck, but that is not an available option.

Most of what I think is going on in this nasty season is captured in this succinct description from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones. Don't be distracted by the dismissive pass he gives to Republican racism. He's nailed the structural impasse within which this campaign is playing out.

The problem for Republicans is simple to describe: it's not that their leaders are racist, but that they've long tolerated racism in their ranks. They know this perfectly well, and they know that they have to broaden their appeal beyond just whites. But they're stuck. If they do that—say, by supporting comprehensive immigration reform or easing up on opposition to affirmative action—their white base goes ballistic. In the end, they never make the base-broadening moves that they all know they have to make eventually.

For Democrats, the problem is the mirror image. Bashing Donald Trump and his supporters for their white nationalism helps with their base, but it's the worst possible way to attract working-class whites who might be attracted to traditional Democratic economic messages. Once you say the word "racism," the conversation is over. Potentially persuadable voters won't hear another word you say.

As long as this remains the case, Democrats will routinely win the presidency because their non-white base is growing every year. But Republicans will routinely win the House—and sometimes the Senate—because way more than half of all congressional districts are majority white. Result: endless gridlock.

The last time racism and federalism delivered a national impasse, this country had a civil war. Just mentioning this. Is that where this is going?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

These Muslim refugees just might influence election results

If Hillary Clinton's poll numbers don't rise in the next 10 days, I'll probably have to throw at you all the "it CAN happen here" material I find myself collecting.

But in the meantime, here's a story from one of those obscure niches of our society that are what makes this an interesting country:

Missouri, after swinging right of late (filling the state legislature with Republicans and voting for McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012) is showing some signs of reverting to its historical status as a swing state, suspended somewhere between North and South, between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats seem to have a chance of replacing one Democratic governor with another and even unseating an incumbent Republican U.S. Senator with an attractive newcomer, Jason Kander, if all goes well.

If this happens, Muslim refugees, now U.S. citizens, will have a role to play. As passed along by Raw Story from Global Post, Missouri has a growing community of Bosniaks who were chase out of their homes by Serb ethnic cleansing during the civil wars of the former Yugoslavia.
Today that community has grown to an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people — primarily Bosniaks, one of the largest such communities in the world outside the Balkans — and in recent years has emerged as a recognizable voting bloc in local politics. Heading into November’s presidential election, St. Louis’ Bosniak and Kosovar communities are near-universally turned off by Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim refugee rhetoric and are skeptical of the candidate’s popularity among Serbian nationalists.

... 10,000 Bosnian names [appear] in St. Louis-area voter lists. With some recent polls showing Clinton and Trump at a virtual tie in Missouri, 10,000 votes could become critical. ... the first generation of children born to Bosnian refugees resettled in St. Louis have reached voting age and eight years worth of Bosnian immigrants have become naturalized citizens. For many Bosnian and Kosovar voters in St. Louis, particularly those who survived Yugoslavia’s bloody breakup, Trump’s anti-Muslim, anti-refugee rhetoric raises red flags.

In August, indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj of the Serbian Radical Party led a march through Belgrade encouraging Serbian Americans to vote for Donald Trump. He gave the Republican candidate’s “support” of Russia as a reason for his endorsement.
Trump fan at the Republican National Convention
Immigration makes us who we are.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Poll on Charlotte police killing

In my participant research on polling, I had the chance today to answer some dumb questions about the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, NC. The results from the national sample have already been posted online.

It's nice to see that most of us don't think Blacks hate whites for our success -- though not everyone has their head out of their ass.

We're a lot closer to clear that Charlotte police should release any video they have NOW.

There's an unsurprising partisan split on general approval for Black Lives Matter.

Saturday scenes and scenery: Martha's Vineyard vistas

Here's a bit of dawn's early light.

Running at dawn, I've seen many such skies.

Hey, there's an ocean out there beyond the windmill.

The cliffs at Gay Head are still lovely, even though rapid erosion is eating them away.

The Sound was remarkably glassy this lovely morning.

All good things must end ... every day.

Friday, September 23, 2016

If Florida votes for Trump ...

... blame my peeps. Actually I think Clinton has a good chance in the state if her GOTV operation increases turnout as it aims to. But old white people are the obstacle in her way.

Friday cat blogging

Erudite Partner sent along this lovely photo of Billy who I hope to see in person when I return to San Francisco. Billy is wonderfully undisturbed when co-existing with a room full of screaming football fans.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

We're going to miss this guy


Ban Ki-Moon is completing almost ten years in his impossible U.N. job, shepherding recalcitrant great powers that have all the guns and money in the direction of humane policies. He leaves with a blast.

“In too many places, we see leaders rewriting constitutions, manipulating elections and taking other desperate steps to cling to power,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said. “My message to all is clear: serve your people. Do not subvert democracy; do not pilfer your country’s resources; do not imprison and torture your critics.”

... Ban excoriated the outside powers that have supported the warring parties on [all] sides of the [Syrian] conflict. While Ban didn’t name names the list of regional or global powers — from Russia and Iran to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and the United States — that supported the combatants — is long. “Powerful patrons that keep feeding the war machine also have blood on their hands,” he said. “Present in this hall today are representatives of governments that have ignored, facilitated, funded, participated in or even planned and carried out atrocities inflicted by all side.”

What hope there is for the world resides among peoples who refuse to put up with crap and leaders who, however imperfect and without power, strive to build institutions that serve the common good of humanity.

Security and scavengers

Ahmad Khan Rahami's largely aborted bombing spree in New York and New Jersey last week raises again the question of how How Safe are We? John Mueller and Mark Stewart took a look at that question in August. For all the drama and horror of various incidents, they are not impressed by the terrorist threat.

... In general, the capacities of the people involved are singularly unimpressive. A summary assessment by RAND’s Brian Jenkins is apt: “their numbers remain small, their determination limp, and their competence poor.”

Indeed, most of these plots were at best embryonic or facilitated by infiltrating FBI operatives—as in the case of the Rochester panhandler who planned in the name of ISIS to wreak havoc at a local restaurant (where he had been treated with less than full courtesy) with a machete bought for him at Walmart by one of the three FBI operatives who had formed something of a cell around him. Left on their own, it is certainly possible that a few of the plotters would have been able to get their acts together and actually do something. But it seems unlikely that the total damage would increase by anywhere near enough to suggest that terrorism is something that could justifiably be said to present a threat.

In addition to those prosecuted on terrorism charges, authorities have encountered a considerable number of loud-mouthed aspirational terrorists within the United States, and, lacking enough evidence to convict them on terror¬ism charges, the authorities have levied lesser ones to jail or deport them. For the most part, these plots or aspirations are even less likely to lead to notable violence than the ones that have led to terrorism trials. Further, the bulk of people who are jailed on terrorism-associated prosecutions serve short terms and, accordingly, are soon set free to commit terrorism if they want to do so. Yet, none have attempted to do so.

Nor is it likely that much terrorism has been deterred by security measures. Extensive and very costly security measures may have taken some targets—commercial airliners and military bases, for example—off the list for just about all terrorists. However, no dedicated would-be terrorist should have much difficulty finding other potential targets if the goal is to kill people or destroy property to make a statement—the country is filled with these. ...

Mr. Rahami seems to have been one of the incompetent, thank goodness.

I'm staying these days with an elderly friend, a true New Yorker; her reaction was instinctively dismissive of the whole episode. In her mind, New Yorkers don't flinch. Josh Marshall who lives across from where the Chelsea bomb exploded reports a similar sentiment.

... Returning to our neighborhood and approaching the guarded perimeter I felt a deep-seated pride in the community I live in, pride as a New Yorker. Immediately outside the sealed off perimeter people were going about their business as if nothing had happened. There was no climate of fear, no sense of a community on lock down. People were walking the streets, going to restaurants and bars.

Everyone has their own inner dialogue they use to process these events. But I saw no fear or panic. We can't control everything about the dangers we may face in life but we can choose how we live. I'm proud to be part of this city.

New York neighborhood media hit similar notes about how this went down: it's a very New York story.

MANHATTAN — Leave the bomb, take the bag.

In two separate cases, thieves snatching bags from a city street and a train station inadvertently helped law enforcement get the upper hand in a bomb spree that injured dozens of people and spans both sides of the Hudson River, sources said.

The day Ahmad Khan Rahami allegedly planted two bombs in Chelsea — one of which detonated on West 23rd Street — two thieves accidentally helped to disable his second pressure cooker bomb left inside a rolling suitcase on West 27th Street... The young men, who sources described as being well-dressed, opened the bag and took the bomb out, sources said, before placing the explosive into a garbage bag and walking away with the rolling suitcase.

... Then, on Sunday night, two homeless men snatched a backpack resting atop a trash can near a train station in Elizabeth, [NJ] officials said. “They probably thought there was something of value in that backpack,” said the mayor of Elizabeth, Christian Bollwage.

They started rooting through the bag and found five explosives that officials say are tied to Rahami, prompting them to immediately drop the bag in the middle of the street and alert police, officials said.

"When they opened it up and found the wire and the pipe they immediately walked around the other corner to Elizabeth police headquarters and turned it in," Bollwage said.

Worth remembering, next time you see someone checking out your garbage.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Whiteness run amok


Writing at Vox, Zack Beauchamp (an Andrew Sullivan blog vet) makes the case for the Trump phenomenon's affinity to rightwing racist and xenophobic movements which infest European politics, notably in Hungary, the Netherlands, and France. Their anti-immigration fury propelled Britain's vote for Brexit. He calls his piece White Riot. It's terrific; do read it. I'll save my caveats for later ...

I want to share at some length one section of it I found particularly interesting and then look at what the experience of California since 1994 suggests how we went past this condition of rampant political hate.

Beauchamp names Trump a "harbinger" of a protracted struggle that democratic societies will need to wage against racist nationalism. And, from social science research about what conditions create the terrain for these movements to arise, he begins with a story:

At the beginning of World War II, the small Baltic country of Lithuania saw two major shocks. First, in 1940, it was invaded and conquered by the Soviet Union. Just the next year, in June 1941, it was invaded and conquered by the Nazis.

In the city of Kaunas, the Nazi invasion triggered a spontaneous wave of attacks against Jewish residents, who had gained an unusual amount of power under the Soviets. The perpetrators weren’t the Nazis, who hadn’t had time to set up yet. It was the people of Kaunas themselves.

Prior to the Nazi invasion, Kaunas had a reputation for tolerance; one Jewish resident called it a "paradise." Yet afterward, the "tolerant" citizens of Kaunas tortured, humiliated, and slaughtered their Jewish neighbors. Roughly 3,800 Jews were murdered in just four days.

Just 65 miles away, in the capital of Vilnius, things were different. The city had seen pogroms in the past, so you would have expected something like the horrors of Kaunas. Yet the citizens of Vilnius mostly left the Jews alone. Why?

He turns to the work of Roger Petersen, a political scientist at MIT.

In order to fully understand why ethnic violence happens, [Petersen] argued, we need to appreciate the role of resentment: the feeling of injustice on the part of a privileged portion of society when it sees power slipping into the hands of a group that hadn't previously held it. Drawing on social psychology, he theorized that one of the underappreciated causes of ethnic violence was a change in the legal and political status of majority and minority ethnic groups.

According to Petersen, that change in status comes from a sense of injustice. Members of dominant groups simply believe they deserve to be the dominant force in their societies, and resent those challenging their positions at the top of the pyramid.

"Any group that’s been dominant — well, it’s not that easy for them not to be dominant anymore," Petersen tells me.

... This helped explain the puzzle of Kaunas and Vilnius. In Kaunas, the Soviet invasion in 1940 had politically empowered local Jews, who had occupied leadership positions in the Communist Party prior to the invasion and ended up with plum Soviet jobs as a result. This sparked intense feelings of resentment on the part of Kaunas residents, resulting in the vicious pogrom. In Vilnius, by contrast, non-Jewish ethnic Poles held most leadership positions. The Soviet invasion didn’t empower Jews on a large scale, and thus failed to create any resentment toward them.

... Petersen predicts that ethnic struggle should play out differently when governments are weak, as in the wake of a Nazi invasion, and when they’re strong, as in modern France. In nations with strong and legitimate governments, the loss of status by a privileged group is extremely unlikely to produce large-scale ethnic slaughter.

But "resentment" on the part of the previously dominant group doesn’t just dissipate; it is simply channeled into another way of clinging to power and preventing another group from attaining it. Like, say, elections and government policies.

"Dominance," Petersen writes, "is sought by shaping the nature of the state rather than through violence."

My emphasis. This describes what happened in the state of California in the 1990s when a large fraction of the white population realized that soon the Golden State would be a "majority-minority" place. The actual demographic tipping point probably arrived in 1999; that awkward locution meant that no racial group amounted to a numerical majority. The prospect of tipping drove a large fraction of the white electorate (still dominant) a little nuts. In 1994, they tried by initiative vote to outlaw immigration; the feds eventually said "not your business." In 1996, lest someone get in line ahead of them, they outlawed state affirmative action programs. This one stuck and to this day the state university system may not consider racial balance in admissions. In 1998, they severely restricted bilingual education in public schools substituting English-only immersion; we get a chance to repeal that one by approving Prop. 58 in November. In 2000, they passed Prop. 21 to lock up "juvenile offenders" -- code for black and brown young people -- and throw away the keys.

And then, to the surprise, of just about everyone, the deluge of attempts to reshape the nature of the state for the benefit of old white people largely stopped. White people were still by far the largest demographic in the electorate; they (we) are projected to continue to be so until 2040 by which time several new generations will have come of age.

So what happened to staunch the racist floodtide? I think I can name three factors; there are undoubtably more.

1) Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown. We got lucky. I know, we made utter fools of ourselves by putting a cartoon character in the Governor's Mansion in 2003 in a recall election. In 2000 we'd elected a dim, gray professional Democratic politician whose claim to the office was that he was less bad than the Republican. Arnold bowled him over -- but, with a Democratic state legislature to keep his worst plutocratic instincts in check, he proved not to be a particularly destructive kind of Republican. He genuinely believed in climate crisis and put the state on a good path toward reducing carbon emissions. And he was an immigrant himself, no hater of foreigners. In Jerry Brown, the state had an experienced re-tred Governor to succeed Arnold. He's a frustrating figure, not playing much more nicely with the Democratic legislature than his predecessor. But over two terms, a tremendous amount of progressive civil rights, labor, education, and even tax legislation has been enacted. California has a functioning government. At the tipping point, we lucked out in state leadership.

2) Organized labor partners with community groups. Back in 2000, not much could be said for the state Democratic Party. But California still had quite a few functional unions. And the political leadership of those unions began to understand that, unless they could make common cause with community organizations, especially in communities of color, they'd have a hard time moving their agenda. This wasn't easy and still isn't. Labor has most of the money and the political experience, but some of the community groups have developed some real electoral skills and lend both people and legitimacy to progressive causes. The Democrats have even re-vivified themselves. In consequence, in California, there has developed some sense of what a broad front of the 99 percent might look like -- fractious but possible.

3) Forty percent of California whites never drank the racist Koolaid. This is important and not obvious. For whatever reasons and they are varied and they aren't all pretty, a lot of white voters decided they didn't want the society shaped to dominate communities of color that California Republicans were offering. The GOP is vestigial in California; their hellish vision has been repudiated. California has plenty of political fights (think Honda v. Khanna for example) but the big ones play out within the Democratic coalition. California has its share of racists (in your local police, perhaps?) but Trump-style white nationalism is a non-starter.

The project is to move the rest of the country to catch up. Here's where I fault the mainstream media. They still act as if California was the land of fruits and nuts, of hippies and commune dwellers. Take a look around folks. We're a far better place than we were twenty years ago and that makes us allergic to Trump pollution.
***
I can't completely leave the Beauchamp piece without pointing out that, obsessed with the European analogy, he never even mentions that U.S. racial configurations are differently complicated than European ones. Our historic white supremacy has enforced dominance over African Americans; our xenophobia toward immigrants has ebbed and risen. At present, the right is lumping Mexicans with Muslims and merely casually denigrating Black people. Not surprisingly, many people in all communities of color, for the moment, feel they are on the same team. But there is nothing in U.S. history to say that this team is static. Struggle will tell.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tick talk

For nearly two months I've been running about in the woods here in this epicenter of tick-borne diseases, and I'm happy to report that so far I seem to have avoided having any of the little monsters attach themselves. Just to be on the safe side, I took the advice of island tick biologist Richard Johnson and acquired some "poison socks" -- they are impregnated with permethrin and are supposed to stun the little pests. So far, no ill effects -- my skin is still there.

The Vineyard Gazette has published the results of an online survey about the island's tick problem and possible solutions. This is a serious matter; it's not good for the tourist business to be known for Lyme disease. Among the 1300 people who volunteered their views through the survey, 68 percent had contracted Lyme disease themselves or known a close family member to experience a tick illness.

When I last wrote about this, I highlighted the possible political fallout. Scientists advocate culling the deer population to break up the tick breeding cycle which thrives on these warm blooded hosts. (Deer don't become ill from Lyme disease exposure as humans do.) This Manhattan-size island apparently provides a home to about 5000 deer -- I see them leaping away through the bushes almost every morning. Johnson proposed hiring efficient, experienced hunters to reduce the deer numbers; allowing more hunting on private land; and reforming health regulations that prevent donations of venison to food pantries.
There are a lot of touchy subjects embedded in those suggestions: off the top I thought about resistance to hunting in general, to guns (this is mega-liberal-land), concern for private property rights, disdain for food pantry clients, and so much more. I was interested to read comments at the Gazette as their report was headlined: "Survey Shows Strong Support for Culling Island Deer Herd."

The survey also drew hundreds of comments, ranging from calls for more research to demands for immediate action.

...“It is disappointing that Vineyard authorities are not taking more concrete, aggressive steps to deal with this grave threat to the people of the Vineyard,” one respondent said.

“This problem needs to be taken much more seriously. All towns need to fund solutions,” said another.

... “We no longer take hikes in the woods, the state forest and some beaches,” wrote one resident. “Even though we live a mile outside of town, we have a serious deer problem in the neighborhood and we pick ticks off of ourselves and our dog daily just by staying in our yard.”

“It is the single thing in my view that keeps the Vineyard from being perfect,” another wrote. “You cannot really go to certain places on the Island without seriously worrying about getting a horrible illness.”

Many who said they favored “significantly reducing the deer herd on Martha’s Vineyard” had comments and questions about what “significantly” meant and how it might be accomplished.

“I answered ‘yes’ but with the caveat that a very carefully vetted analysis be done by qualified scientists as to the number of deer which could be safely culled so as to not permanently degrade the viability of deer on the Island,” wrote one respondent.

“As a last option because I realize that the ticks also get Lyme from other places too,” wrote another. “We need to consider the mice and other rodents. I would also want to make sure the deer meat to be used to feed people and not to be wasted if we hired professional hunters.”

Many respondents wanted to be assured that the venison would be used for food and not wasted.

Of the 1,311 respondents, 50 identified themselves as hunters. Three-quarters of these said either they or a family member had contracted a tick-borne illness and 80 per cent said they would favor significantly reducing the deer herd.

Online comments on the articles were not so unanimous nor so politely stated, as is often the case in electronic discussions. Here is a small sampling from a vigorous back and forth:

Killing deer won't do it, you would have to kill all our small animals and birds as well.There must be a better way not to destroy the chain of life,and not using pesticides to kill us all.With all the pills to cure almost everything there is,just watch TV,can't the scientists come up with a safe plan for us all, and not have to kill off other beings, we are all connected.

Eliminate the deer. They are a health hazard and a huge danger to motorists. They will also threaten your future income from tourists. You also need to put a bounty on the skunks. PETA members and sympathizers clearly run this island and are pleased to have it stink like skunk year round and pass around another round of antibiotics cause I think I have yet another tick bite. Thanks PETA! Next time your kid gets Lyme, we'll just chock it up to "cohabitating with nature".

Cull is a nice word to use but why not just say kill or slaughter. Is that too harsh a description? You can kill ALL the deer on the Island & that is not going to stop the tick population. Ticks are resilient & will still be here long after all the deer are gone. Ticks on deer start with mice & small rodents. To eliminate the tick population you should begin with discussion of the elimination of mice & small rodents, not the mass slaughter of deer. That might make some hunters happy but will not eliminate the ticks.

I have a herd of deer in my yard almost weekly. I think we need to add coyotes to the island to kill of the deer, rabbits and skunks. We are being overtaken by these animals who have no predators.

Beware of the Law of Unintended Consequences -- DO NOT INTRODUCE any major predators such as coyotes, red fox or wolves (or anything else that has sharp teeth!) because you will wipe out the few remaining ground nesting birds (why introduce quail if you also introduce their ace predator?), domestic animals, farm animals (including sheep, pigs, calves, poultry), and prove a danger to all of us who love and enjoy the outdoors. Deer have been increasing dramatically in numbers (as have skunks, raccoons, and rats along with other rodents and chipmunks/squirrels) and they not only carry ticks they have been particularly efficient for the past several years at destroying gardens and eating crops, as well as eating all sorts of horticultural plants.

...Yes deer are cute to look at and no one likes to think of killing anything, but deer are not endangered here and they are both a nuisance and a menace because of their numbers. In fact, they are so numerous that they are over running their habitat. A massive deer cull by trained hunters could reduce the numbers to a manageable size. We also need to eliminate a lot of the skunk/raccoon and rat population as well as mice. This seems brutal but the alternatives are worse. Do you want a coyote/red wolf in your back yard chowing down on Bambi who has just eaten the plants under your dining room windows, the plants on pots on your deck or your whole market crop? Have you ever experienced a skunk/raccoon kill in your chicken coop with bloody corpses and feathers everywhere?

What I don't understand is that at such a high cost to not do it, so many people are against deer culling. Why? Deer are so prolific on the island and we do nothing to curb their population. We also do not listen to the science, which clearly says that if you reduce the deer population you will reduce Lyme disease. What don't we understand?

The tick borne disease plague on the island involves five New England towns, all with their own governing leaders and their own traditions of local decision making. The deer problem -- the tick problem -- will find its way into discussions outside the post office, at the public library, in town meetings, maybe even in local selectmen elections. The issues involved are cross cutting; people are largely not locked into fixed positions in relation to an emerging threat. Though finding solutions is an urgent need, the threat is not so novel as to scare people silly. How Islanders work this out will be an interesting problem in popular democracy. Nobody is giving away their right to an opinion here ... I will be trying to follow the Island's deer decisions from afar.
***
This little kerfuffle, while potentially deadly for many deer, the ticks, and even some Lyme disease sufferers, is about the extent of current politics that I feel I can treat as spectator sport. This election season has become a deadly serious test of our dysfunctional institutions and our ethical choices as a democratic people. No joke there.

Monday, September 19, 2016

It's too damn hot!

I've now been here on the East Coast for nearly two months and it has only been in the last week that day time temperatures, and accompanying humidity, have been low enough for me to imagine running or even thinking well. After decades in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'll admit I'm a Weather Wimp. I don't react well to heat, and especially I hate humidity.


So I'm in instinctive agreement with this study highlighted by Nicholas Kristof.

A clever new working paper by Jisung Park, a Ph.D. student in economics at Harvard, compared the performances of New York City students on 4.6 million exams with the day’s temperature. He found that students taking a New York State Regents exam on a 90-degree day have a 12 percent greater chance of failing than when the temperature is 72 degrees. ...Park finds that when a student has the bad luck to have Regents exams fall on very hot days, he or she is slightly less likely to graduate on time.

Likewise, Park finds that when a school year has an unusual number of hot days, students do worse at the end of the year on their Regents exams, presumably because they’ve learned less. A school year with five extra days above 80 degrees leads students to perform significantly worse on Regents exams.

This is a consequence of climate warming we may not yet have thought about: being hotter makes us stupider. As each successive month breaks temperature records, human societies lose resilience. Again from Kristof:

We just don’t function as well when the mercury goes up. When the temperature rises above 85 degrees, Americans who work outside cut their time in the heat by about an hour. Even in auto factories, most presumably air-conditioned, a week of six days above 90 degrees reduces production by 8 percent.

Perhaps more startling, rising temperatures seem to cause more violence.

“The relationship is really clear,” said Edward Miguel, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has studied the issue. “Extremes in climate lead to more violence, more killing, more war, more land riots in Brazil, more sectarian violence in India. It’s pretty stunning how the relationship between climate and violence holds across the globe.”

I'm old enough to remember when air conditioning was a noisy, seldom used, novelty. People who had it in homes or cars only turned it on as a last resort and harbored a sneaking suspicion that they were somehow breaking a taboo by relying on artificial cooling. No longer. Now such attitudes are simply quaint.Tyler Falk explains:

It wasn't until the beginning of World War II that homes in southern U.S. cities began using air conditioning units. By 1955, one in every 22 American homes had air conditioning. In the South, that number was about 1 in 10... Since this increase in air conditioning use, many of these Southern cities experienced a population boom.

I took a look at the metro areas in the U.S. with more than 1 million people and found which have historically been the hottest, based on the number of cooling degree days per year -- a statistic used to measure how much and how many days the outside temperature in a certain location is above 65 degrees. Using numbers from NOAA, I found that between 1971-2000, six big cities in the South had an average of at least 3,000 cooling degree days. I also compared the 1940 metro population (when available) to the metro population in 2010. From the time just before air conditioning became popular in the South to today, population growth in the region has skyrocketed. This raises the question: would these hot Southern cities be around, at least in their present form, if air conditioning hadn't been invented? 

... With the middle class growing in warm metros in countries like India, demand for air conditioning is increasing. ... Last year, 55 percent of new air conditioners were sold in the Asia Pacific region. Unfortunately, we'll have to take the good (increased comfort) with the bad. That increased demand will also have a major impact on energy use in these global cities. ... the potential cooling demand from Mumbai alone is one-quarter of the demand for the entire United States.

So as the climate heats up, human demand for energy intensive cooling will only increase. It is hard to blame individuals trying to preserve their brainpower.

Now there's an argument for maximum efforts to prevent additional warming now as much as we still can. As we bake and get dumber, what are our chances of reducing runaway carbon pollution? Not good.

Climate scientists are doing their best. So are forward looking civic leaders. Louisville, Kentucky, is the site of an important attempt to cool the city by planting trees, Everywhere, roof gardens and reflective white paint may help reduce urban heat sinks.

But it seems that ultimately, we'll either get off carbon emitting fossil fuels or we'll fry. There are no individual solutions, only society-wide interventions.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

They wanted to be seen as human beings

Forty-five years ago this month, about 1000 mostly Black prisoners at New York's Attica state prison revolted against the terrible conditions in which they were jailed. They killed two guards in the struggle, seized 42 additional guards and other personnel as hostages, and used their momentary power over the prison to present demands to correctional authorities, to Governor Nelson Rockefeller who was gearing up to run for president, and to the world.

We are men! We are not beasts and we do not intend to be beaten or driven as such. The entire prison populace, that means each and every one of us here, have set forth to change forever the ruthless brutalization and disregard for the lives of the prisoners here and throughout the United States. What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed.

Elliott James "L.D." Barkley

The prisoners requested a group of sympathetic free civilians be brought in to act as witnesses and go-betweens with the authorities; Rockefeller, hoping to tamp down the rebellion, agreed.

Clarence B. Jones, a lawyer and former advisor to Dr. King who was also the publisher of the Black newspaper, the Amsterdam News, was one of the observers. He retold (with co-author Stuart Connelly) the Attica events as he lived them in Uprising: Understanding Attica, Revolution, and the Incarceration State. How he came to be chosen by the prisoners is an appealing story. This wasn't about his connection to Dr. King.

To enable incarcerated readers to develop a special connection to my paper, I soon created a weekly feature for our op ed page entitled “From Behind Prison Walls.” I did this to provide inmates in prisons within New York a voice, the opportunity to have their letters read by the public at large. It turned out I was one of the very few—perhaps the only—editor in the country who actually published letters like this.

So when the convicts of Attica’s Cellblock “D” had their hostages and the government waiting for them to make their first move, they wanted some righteous representation. They wanted me to do their talking for them. To speak truth to power. From the rioting inmates’ perspective, it was a perfect fit. Apparently, without my realizing it, printing these letters had made my name intertwined with prison reform. ...

So Jones allowed himself to be transported to the prison and, alongside several dozen others acceptable to the prisoners, visited the insurgents. The longer prisoners controlled the yard, the longer the demand list grew.

The prisoners’ list of fifteen so-called practical demands [about immediate conditions like overcrowding and racist white officers] had more than doubled. They were now asking for 33 concessions, including a plane to fly them out of the country. Cuba was mentioned several times. Things were moving in the wrong direction. The issue of amnesty was still paramount; it was listed third after getting food and water and replacing the warden.

Jones was horrified. This wasn't going to happen after two guards had died -- and the most likely outcome would be a massacre of prisoners. He describes his introduction to the prisoners.

As each observer’s name was shouted, there was a roar from the crowd. One of the riot’s leaders, a Black Muslim, told the inmates in “D” Yard that each of us would be called up to the microphone and makeshift podium to say a few words to them.

All through the night, the inmates made speeches and so did the observers. As important as it was for us to be there for them, they in fact spent more time making proclamations to each other than they did listening to us. They were merely, in street parlance, “sellin’ wolf tickets” to one another. When the observers did have a chance to speak, there was a thematic consistency threading through almost every one of our comments. The idea behind nearly every one of the observers’ remarks was that we were individually committed to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the uprising and to try to get the prison authorities to respond to and redress the inmates’ demands.

Over two tense days, the observers tried to avert bloodshed. The authorities made some feints toward agreeing to a few demands, but the situation was at an impasse. Rockefeller feared his presidential prospects were dribbling away as the nation watched him fail to crush the rebellion. And so, four days after the revolt began, the guards and state police came in with tear gas, clubs, snipers and guns blazing. Ten hostages and 29 inmates died, all apparently killed by the invading prison authorities.

Jones describes his last visit to the yard before the massacre.

As I made my way out of the yard, the prisoners parted to make a path for me and I could feel the tension in the air shift. It was a deflated sensation, all that pent-up hostility turning in an instant to despair. On either side, I could hear the sobbing. Convicts’ emotions poured forth–a litany of swearing, praying, moaning, and crying. A jumble of lost voices sifting through to my ears, drumming into my head:

Tell my boy daddy loves him...
Oh god, save us...
It’s not our fault...
Don’t go, brother...

Because they knew, just knew, they were watching their last hope walk out that door. Black and brown hands reached out, forcing into my grip notes written on the inside of cigarette packs and torn-out edges of Bible pages.

Outside of the yard, I sifted through the dozens of hand-scrawled notes. They were all written to loved ones or family members, many with phone numbers and/or addressed for me to reached out to on behalf of their doomed. These inmates were being realist now. They never expected to survive in “D” Yard once the order was given by Rockefeller to take the prison back. And that order was coming sooner or later.

The brutal re-occupation of Attica was the inaugural scene in a decades long racist backlash against Black gains, characterized by "law and order," "tough on crime," mandatory sentencing, and mass incarceration.

The second half of Uprising deals with the subsequent investigations of the Attica revolt and the continuing struggle against mass incarceration. Jones affirms what he draws from the experience working with Dr. King:

Make no mistake, history follows its own arc unless we make a purposeful determined effort to bend it in another direction.

He's still alive and, I suspect, appreciating the contemporary struggles of the Movement for Black Lives.
***
During the Attica rebellion, I was on the hot, anxious streets of the Lower East Side of New York where many of the nine percent of Attica prisoners who were Puerto Rican originated. Fear and despair were everywhere. Attica seemed very close.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday scenes: annals of San Francisco displacement

These days, when so many Black residents are being driven out of the city by rising rents and other living costs, some Black San Franciscans have taken to calling themselves the last 3 percent.

The present dispersal of the longstanding clusters of residents of color is the latest phase of an "urban renewal" process that ran thoughout the late 1940s through early 1980s in the Fillmore and Western Addition. Much of the city's famously ornate late 19th century housing was torn down, some replaced by two story apartment-style housing projects. Some African American-oriented community buildings were also built, including the Rosa Parks Senior Center and Ella Hill Hutch Community Center.

Through the center of this area, San Francisco Rec and Park has created the Buchanan Mall.

Banners trumpet this "greenway".

It seems unlikely that uplifting signage can revive a bygone community, there it is.
The story of the area is well told in "How Urban Renewal Destroyed The Fillmore In Order to Save It."

I encountered the Buchanan Mall while Walking San Francisco.
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