Saturday, April 04, 2020

Solidarity endures

The Art Bistro in the farthest Richmond District is plenty precarious, but it's there for its neighbors.

On Bernal Hill, calls for applause for the health workers, grocery clerks, delivery people, garbage haulers -- all who are keeping us together through this horror.

Friday, April 03, 2020

There will be an "after COVID-19" ...

When last month Donald Trump blurted, "It’s something that nobody expected," I almost blew a fuse. Journalist Laurie Garrett knew. She spelled out the threat of a global pandemic in 1994 in her best-selling THE COMING PLAGUE: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. She'd seen AIDS/HIV spread across our country and the globe. Earlier, she'd seen Legionnaires Disease erupt -- and fortunately be pushed out of sight. She's heard of bizarre illnesses in remote places like the blood curdling Ebola in inaccessible parts of Africa. She understood that new sorts of biological threats to humans, amplified by the speed and scope of world travel and by our complacent confidence that modern medicine had a remedy for illness, was going to break through one day. And here we are. I remember reading the book and wishing I could shove what I'd learned into some dark corner where I never had to think about it again.

Today Garrett is reporting in real time on a plague that is engulfing humans everywhere. She has constructed a clear timeline of COVID-19's emergence in China, the criminal denial from both Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, and scientists' efforts to work around these self-centered political leaders. It turns out it's neither our flawed democracy or Chinese authoritarianism that determines responses; it's powerful men's fixation on their self-interests.

Both Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping instinctively sought to repress news of the true danger of their countries’ outbreaks, and the reach of their infection zones, so as to minimize potential political damage to their regimes.

Okay. We know that and it is important to keep in mind their record of murderous malfeasance. But I'm almost more interested when Garrrett looks ahead toward a time when, after millions of deaths across the world, scientists invent a vaccine that could immunize us against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. And once again, she's drawing on what can be learned from the past.

Going forward, there is one hope for humanity, and for the Sino-American relationship: the development of an effective coronavirus vaccine. Several nations, including China and the United States, are racing to create a vaccine, and to push prototypes of one into large clinical trials. With luck, one of those products can stop Covid-19’s spread, without difficult side effects.

But that may well lay the groundwork for additional high-stakes battles. In past global epidemics, such discoveries have led to two terrible outcomes: patent disputes, and a fully unjust distribution of lifesaving innovations worldwide. In 2009, for example, the H1N1 swine flu spread globally in less than six months, but viable vaccines weren’t available for most countries until the epidemic had passed. Poor countries never did receive supplies of the vaccine that were sufficient to put a dent in their outbreaks. ...

International agencies are now poised to counter such profit-motive failures in the vaccines markets, drawing their funding mostly from the Gates Foundation and the foreign aid budgets of a handful of wealthy countries. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which grew out of the World Economic Forum, offers financial support for vaccine invention. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, makes bulk purchases of childhood vaccines and helps ensure their distribution in poor countries. The Global Fund underwrites some health system costs for poor countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Together, they represent a fledgling international infrastructure for global immunization

But Covid-19 won’t simply disappear if the wealthy world is left to its own devices, manufacturing costly vaccines that are only affordable to fully insured residents of the 30 richest nations on Earth. What we collectively face is the need to execute the largest mass immunization program in world history, deploying teams of vaccinators to every nook and cranny of the planet, rich or poor.

... If an effective Covid-19 vaccine is developed, its targets will include almost eight billion human beings, with nearly three-quarters of a billion living in conditions of extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures. Eliminating the coronavirus scourge will require mobilization of tens of thousands of immunization teams, armed with affordably priced vaccines. It is likely that both China and the United States, based on their initial human tests of candidate vaccines, will lead global manufacturing—and that both countries will face the moral and economic pressures of balancing global needs against company profits.

Whether we like it or not, we are all citizens of the world. Xenophobia and panic separate us. That's not going to serve.

Friday cat blogging

Morty just wants to sit in his sunbeam. But the sight drives Carly to distraction. Since the dog is not getting out to walk, she gets her exercise by running up the back steps and banging into the glass door, trying to reach that cat. Morty remains oblivious.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

In the season of the coronavirus, campaigns have a new project

A small detail in an article about the Wisconsin primary election still scheduled to go forward next Tuesday caught my eye. Wisconsin Republicans have refused to postpone like other states because they think the extremely probable low turnout will help them win a state supreme court election. So the vote is going on ...

As was almost certain to happen, the state is having trouble staffing polling places.

In Tuesday’s Wisconsin elections, more than 100 municipalities will not have enough poll workers to open a single voting location.

Well, duh ... the sort of folks who staff Election Day are usually older, often retired, none too spry -- just exactly the people most threatened by COVID-19. For sure they aren't going to risk their lives to sit in a drafty auditorium checking lists for little or no pay. Isn't going to happen.

Ordinarily, candidate campaigns haven't paid much attention to whether the local election authorities have recruited enough election day workers. That's their job while campaigns campaign. But, in however many states reject changing to all mail-in voting in November, campaigns are going to have to help the local authorities find enough poll workers. Smart campaigns will be looking among their volunteers for persons who might be willing to become poll workers. We're going to have to encourage an infusion of younger -- or perhaps tested to establish immunity -- workers into election jobs. Their purpose isn't to be partisan. It's simply to ensure a free and fair election can happen at all.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

We're bearing up!

If I weren't Walking San Francisco during the lockdown, I wouldn't have encountered the bears. (Don't be concerned; if I see other pedestrians, we give each other a wide berth.)
The great international #bearhunt inspired by Michael Rosen's children's book is alive and well in at least one city neighborhood.
There are cuddly bears.
There are quizzical bears.
There are bear displays.
There are uncomfortable looking bears.
Hey -- that's no bear!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The hazard that comes with our best choices

Erudite Partner's latest syndicated TomDispatch article asks Is the Pandemic Patriarchal?

Because our society routinely disadvantages women, the novel virus and the social distancing with which we have responded only have made more difficult the lives of many, or even most, women. It's not just being cooped up the house with increased childcare responsibilities. Men seem to be more vulnerable to catching the disease, but because of how families and societies are organized, women face ongoing, escalating threats. E.P. spells it out.

Good news you understandably might have missed

While we were all trying to adjust to being locked down, some good stuff happened out there.

Did you know that Colorado abolished the death penalty last Monday? Governor Jared Polis signed the measure sent him from the Democratic legislature eliminating capital punishment and also converted the sentences of three men awaiting execution to life without the possibility of parole. This makes Colorado the 22nd state without a death penalty. Many states, including California, retain death penalty laws on the books, but seldom or never execute convicted offenders.
Early in March, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger ordered removal of Confederate paraphernalia from all of the service's bases. Oh, you thought that the victor in that war had been determined a century and a half ago? So did I. But after members of Congress had held a hearing on white supremacist activity in the ranks, the general felt he should take action.

"We're not being politically correct -- nobody told me to do this. The sergeant major and I are just trying to do what's right for the institution.

"We're trying to make it better."

Finally, the Water Is Life movement scored a big win against a dangerous, dirty oil pipeline.

... a federal court issued a major ruling in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s legal challenge to the Dakota Access Pipeline. The D.C. Court of Appeals found that the Army Corps of Engineers violated federal law in giving the pipeline a permit to cross beneath the Missouri River, at a spot just north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, whose residents say the pipeline poses an ongoing threat to their drinking water, sacred sites, and way of life.

“This decision vindicates everything we have been saying,” Dallas Goldooth, a grassroots organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, tells Mother Jones. “Indigenous expert knowledge cannot be ignored. The fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground cannot be ignored. This is a huge win, not just for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes, but for the hundreds of other nations fighting extractive projects on their lands.”

Will this hold up in court? There's a chance. The victory is a reminder of what Native Americans have to know: never say never.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Raised up by the wind in colonized Massachusetts

When Puritan colonists descended on epidemic-decimated Massachusetts in the 1600s, they ostensibly believed it was their responsibility to evangelize the existing Native inhabitants. According to Michael P. Winship's Hot Protestants: A History of Puritanism in England and America:

The English had always made pious, empty noise about the missionizing goals of their colonies. "Come over and help us," says the Native American on the 1629 seal of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Yet for already overworked New England ministers faced with what one called the "veriest ruins of mankind," it was easier to agree with the illustrious John Cotton about the Native Americans' place in God's plan for humanity. The Native Americans' mass conversion was to take place only after the mass conversion of the Jews. Since the Jews remained stubbornly Jewish, the Native Americans must remain, for the time being, Native American, and there was no point in putting energy into trying to convert them.

Somewhat surprisingly, some local Natives took it upon themselves to investigate the Englishmen's God. After all, that God seemed powerful while their Wampanoag spirits had allowed the epidemic.

Winship tells the story of a man named Waban who apparently had always felt a call to be a spiritual leader of some sort to his people, but never quite found his role until he decided to study the secrets of the English religion. He then led a community called by the Puritans the "Praying Indians" who attempted to adopt Puritan customs. They convinced at least some Puritan congregations of the authenticity of their acceptance of the Christ and were baptized -- a far from perfunctory rite in that colony. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts confirmed their title to their land and later the town of Natick was founded as a home for "Praying Indians." Conversion spread around Cape Cod and particularly offshore on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Though imported European illnesses continued to kill off members of the tribe for several generations, some Wampanoags found a way to make their peace with the white men's God.

Waban's acceptance of Christianity had one idiosyncrasy to it. He never adopted the practice, common among Praying Indians, of taking a Christian first name. Perhaps that was because he felt he did not need to, for his name was already charged with Christian significance. "Waban" meant "wind," and Eliot's first sermon to the Notamun Indians was on Ezekiel 37:1-4, which speaks of wind stirring dry bones.

Native Americans and English alike made the connection between the verse and Waban and his evangelizing activities. For Waban, his prophetic name meant that the coming of Christianity started before the arrival of Europeans. Other Native Americans recalled pre-contact dreams of the arrival of black-clothed missionaries, while still others were convinced that the missionaries were restoring wisdom the Native Americans had forgotten.

These newest of Native American stories, about how their God used the English to complete his bringing of this truth to them, meant nothing to most colonists. ...

The Praying Indian community was further repressed in the wake of what the colonists called "King Phillip's War" in 1676 when some of the tribespeople rose up against the English interlopers.

But elements of a syncretistic piety survive to this day among the Wampanoags. On Martha's Vineyard Island, the tribe is an important component of a racially diverse population. In southern Massachusetts in the last few days, the Trump Administration Department of the Interior is trying to "disestablish" the Mashpec Wampanoags. Perhaps the tribe is suspected of wanting to compete with Trump in a casino business?
I thought of Waban when we read from Ezekiel about the dry bones brought to life by wind in online church on Sunday morning.
The illustration here is from Native American Netroots.

I took up Hot Protestants as part of my personal "1620 project" in which I'm trying to learn a little more about the story of my ancestors who were among those tough but otherwise unattractive settlers at Plymouth 400 years ago. A previous post:
Those Plymouth Puritans

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Instacart workers call for work stoppage

This is so brave it's breathtaking. Workers serving as "personal shoppers" for the gig grocery delivery company Instacart plan to walk off their jobs tomorrow, March 30, demanding the company provide them with protective equipment, hazard pay including a default tip of 10 percent of the order, and to keep promises to assist any worker impacted by COVID-19.

I first encountered Instacart while working on an election campaign for a union in 2018. As is always the case on a campaign, there was too much to do with too few people to accomplish it. The autumn days were burning hot; we were sending squads of canvassers out all day long; they carried multiple plastic bottles of water to keep themselves from heat stroke. A nearby big box store advertised deliveries by Instacart.

We needed 20 cases of water NOW. So we ordered for immediate delivery. Several hours later, well into the evening, a battered looking middle aged woman stuck her head into the office. "Where's the elevator?"

There was no elevator, only a full flight of stairs. "I'm not going to be able to carry these cases of water up here." That looked to be true.

A couple of us went down stairs with her. Somehow she had managed to cram 20 cases of water into a battered mid-size Corolla. The car looked as if it might blow apart. So did she.

Naturally, we mobilized a few folks and carried the water up to the office. We made sure to more than double the tip in the app.

And we only used Instacart sparingly after that, knowing that we were contributing to the exploitation of desperate people.

Now many shut-in people need these Instacart workers to deliver their food. They are performing an essential service. There are so many delivery options in this crisis, I wonder whether these workers can exert real pressure on the company. But you gotta applaud their courage and dignity to press their demands even in these tough times.

Saturday, March 28, 2020


Somebody pinned this up on 24th Street. I like it, even if it is a bit saccharine.

Social distancing, physical distancing ...

... means standing in lines ...

... this one to enter Costco. These scenes are from about a week ago. I haven't returned.

Meanwhile on an upscale neighborhood shopping strip ...

There's no mistaking what is expected of shoppers ...

... this was "senior shopping," early one morning, all carefully ordered.

Friday, March 27, 2020

San Fran rocks!

Activist community organizations and union locals have come together calling themselves United in Crisis to demand a more humane and more just city response to the coronavirus pandemic and economic crash. They put out a ten point program:
  • Meeting Basic needs:
    Ensure Equitable Access to Information For All
    Ensure Deliveries of Food and Medications
  • Workers
    Create Public Health Emergency Leave and Worker Protections
    Direct Payments to Vulnerable Workers, Not Through Employers
  • Students and School Communities
    Schools Sites Act as Centers for Food, Childcare, Wellness
    Sustainable Funding to Fill Gaps in School and Childcare Systems
  • Healthcare
    Provide Full Healthcare Staffing at all Public Facilities
    Give Access to Basic Sanitation and Testing for All San Franciscans
  • Housing and Homelessness
    Implement a Full Eviction Moratorium
    Give Access to Unfilled Hotels and Private Housing
Even as we shelter in place, we can hold our city pols accountable -- and take notes about who has risen to this awful occasion.

To learn more and to build community strength, check out San Francisco United in Crisis.

Friday cat blogging from lockdown

We're all in here together. Morty can look out the window. Virus or no virus, we wouldn't let him out anyway, but he can hope for a sunbeam.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Those Plymouth puritans

Less religiously zealous English commentators of the 16th century maintained that Puritans were "hot protestants." The Protestant Reformation and the emergence of a mercantile bourgeois class which formed a novel, post-feudal, power center turned the island kingdom upside down. The puritans, rigorous and cantankerous Calvinists, were undesirable troublemakers in the view of nearly everyone who didn't agree with them. Between the 1540s and the 1690s

... puritans executed a king, helped remove another one, founded a short-lived republic in England, and established quasi-republics in New England. Coming from all ranks of society, puritans reshaped England's religious culture, destroyed much of its great medieval artistic legacy, wrote creeds and catechisms with worldwide impact, and created a lasting body of religious literature.

... They were the most determined seekers of salvation and the most committed activists for the moral and spiritual reformation necessary to keep God's wrath off England for its many sins and for its failure raise itself to the pristine standards of the Bible. ...

The central institution for guidance in these great puritan struggles with outward and inward sin was, or should have been, the Church of England. ... Puritans supported the Church of England's religious tasks, as well as its religious monopoly. God had only one truth, and England should have only one monarch and one church that governed the country together in their different spheres. The Reformation had been about religious liberty only insofar as that meant the liberty of follow God's law correctly, as outlined in the Bible.

For puritans, the problem with the Church of England was that it was following God's law only erratically, which meant, in their eyes, that it did none of its tasks well. It lagged far behind the continental Reformed churches in purging itself of the government, worship, and the inadequate discipline of its Catholic past. Ever-growing hostility toward puritanism from authorities in church and state eventually pushed some puritans to take the drastic step of immigrating to New England.

... In New England, puritans could finish the business of puritans: fashioning governments and properly reformed Calvinist church establishments that would supervise a unified Christian community, and see to it that God's elect were shepherded to heaven ...

The enormous virtue of Michael P. Winship's Hot Protestants: A History of Puritanism in England and America, for someone who received a mostly forgotten introduction to mythologized Massachusetts "Pilgrim fathers" in grade school, is that it places those puritans firmly in the context of English political and religious history of which they were but a small offshoot -- albeit one that fathered a worldwide evangelical style which completely overshadowed its Church of England roots. Those who took off across the ocean dodged the high drama and considerable misery of England's religious/civil war of the mid-17th century; they were simply not important in the life and death struggles that consumed the mother country. Consequently they were able to design their own inward looking communities with little hindrance. For many years, they didn't have to realize how far out of phase with England's evolving society and culture they had become. The Atlantic is a big ocean

Here's some of Winship's take on my Plymouth ancestors, the earliest of the puritan emigrants. Their little separatist congregation included apparently some of the hottest of the hot ones.

By the end of the 1610s, their hopes of fostering reformation in the Netherlands were growing dim. Making a living was hard and the Dutch did not meet their high standards of piety. They told themselves that these problems were what prevented English people from flocking to them and freeing themselves from the corruptions of the Church of England. If the separatists went to America and prospered, however, their countrymen would be keener to join them there. And so the decision was made to cross the Atlantic. ... When the time came to depart from the Netherlands in July 1620, the majority of the congregation got cold feet. ...

Their ship got lost on what became the coast of Massachusetts; they settled in an abandoned native village they found depopulated by a recent epidemic; around half of the settlers died in the ensuing winter, leaving only ten households. Moreover they had brought with them no pastor; their former leader who they hoped to import died in London in an outbreak of the plague. They made do with lay leadership from one William Bradford whose chronicle of the colony gave it its later prominence

By 1626, the future of the debt-laden, minister less plantation, its roughly 150 settlers, and the reformation it had hoped to foster appeared grim. Plymouth seemed destined to join the growing scrap heap of failed English North American colonies. "To look humanly on the state of things as they presented themselves at this time, it is a marvel it did not wholly discourage them," Bradford wrote later. That the plantation did survive was because it would shortly acquire a sympathetic, larger, and much better connected puritan neighbor to the north ...

That is, my ancestors needed a rescue and they got lucky. The Massachusetts Bay colony at what became Boston replaced Plymouth as the center of the Calvinist bridgehead in New England. Its leaders were far more sophisticated, and better funded and connected, refugees from the English monarch's effort to suppress the strong strain of Calvinism in the Church of England. Regicide and Civil War followed from Charles II's failure to manage his religiously fractious kingdom.

Meanwhile, the little Plymouth settlement became part of a "United Colonies of New England" compact in 1643, consisting of almost 50 towns. This put this faraway appendage of the embattled English state well on its way to founding its own community "propagating and preserving the truth and liberties of the gospel," and providing for its own defense and welfare. Once kings were re-established in England -- not really until after 1688 -- the Crown tried to resume control over its overseas protestant colonies. The strains of that effort prefigured the eruption of discontent less than 100 years later which led to these United States.

Professor Winship is an American historian, but his real apparent field of interest is Protestant reformation politics in early modern England. This is a fascinating book about the many ins and outs of Calvinist fortunes vis a vis various iterations of governments and the Church of England. I found it solid on the American colonial aspects of the story, but this is not the best part. Still I would recommend taking a look if the course of English speaking Calvinism interests you. The book is also fascinating on what happened when these New England puritans tried to evangelize the native American people among whom they had plopped their little godly polity. I'm planing another post on that story.

I took up Hot Protestants as part of my personal "1620 project" in which I'm trying to learn a little more about the story of my ancestors who were among those tough but otherwise unattractive settlers at Plymouth 400 years ago. A previous post in the series is here:
Those Massachusetts pilgrims
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