Monday, November 12, 2018

Taking Banksy's advice today

The long campaign season and returning to a city filled with smoke leave me pooped. I need a day off. Back as soon as energy returns. It will; it always has.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

On Armistice Day

As we mark the 100th anniversary of what its contemporaries knew as "the Great War" (World War I), I realize that I belong to the last generation which carries a live memory of people who survived that scarcely imaginable catastrophe. In 1914, Europe seemed on a path toward increased globalization and "modern" living -- a path from which it was derailed by carnage, at least through 1945 and perhaps more accurately through 1989. Within four years, a 19th century vision of "infinite progress" had been obliterated, 20 million soldiers and civilians were dead, and long established political polities had been swept away while novel, usually unstable, entities had been created.

... the last [US?] World War I veteran died in 2012. ... if Europe’s motto after World War II was “never again,” the lesson of World War I is “it could happen again.”

Katrin Bennhold, New York Times

To honor this anniversary, I want to call attention to a previous blog post.

Somewhat improbably, I was raised near an uncle, Stevan Idjidovic (who adopted the last name "Stevens" for the benefit of his English speaking relatives) who had served as a Serbian child soldier in that war. He told his wild story in a little memoir titled Snows of Serbia. This provides an intimate portrait of hardship and accidental survival that is still gripping. Here's how war came to his ethnically Serbian village which happened to be located within what were then Austro-Hungary's borders:

We could not understand why they were burning our Serbian village; we had been loyal subjects of the Empire for generations. "They are going to kill us," repeated Cika Krana .... We were all terrified by the realization that the village was being put to the torch and the people were being shot by our own soldiers. ...

... I happened to be the only male of adult size in the group. "You, come here!" I heard the Croat sergeant speak, his gaze fixed on me. As I was about to step forward I heard Mother plead "Oh don't, please don't," as she clutched my arm. I was afraid to step forward but realized I had no alternative. I broke loose from Mother’s grip and stepped forward facing the sergeant. He was about my height with blond hair and a well-groomed mustache, his steely blue eyes fixed on me. "What are you?" he demanded sternly, meaning what nationality was I. I was on the point of telling the truth but checked myself; I kept silent, realizing he wanted me to say, "I am a Serb".

... His rage was mounting and, raising his right hand, he struck a savage blow on my left ear. "This will teach you how to obey."

With my back turned to the soldiers, I walked away slowly and apprehensively. About halfway to the street corner a rifle shot rang out behind me and I stopped dead in my tracks. A bullet whizzed by me hitting the soft road ahead of me, raising the dust. I assumed it was meant for me, but why had it missed? I wheeled around. Instantly I learned that the bullet was not intended for me. There on the road I saw my father staggering slowly in my direction, bent over in pain.

Fourteen year old Stevan then escaped to Serbian army lines by swimming across the River Sava:

... I discarded everything except my underwear and my broad brimmed hat. This done I wasted no time and plunged into the cold water. ... I had hardly swum two hundred feet from shore when I heard the crack of rifle shots close by. ...

... It is said of the dying, or of a man about to die, that they experience flashes of memories of their whole life. Nothing of the sort happened to me. On the contrary, I was thinking of how my body would be eaten by the fishes. The volleys of bullets continued to splash around me. ...

Observing the [Serbian] shore as I came closer, I shuddered at an unbelievable sight. In the calm waters of the bend the current had deposited hundreds of bodies of Serbian soldiers who had fallen at the battle of Cevrntija two weeks earlier. Frightfully bloated and closely packed, the bridge of bodies extended out from the shore some twenty feet. There was no stench that I noticed, but the bodies did create a barrier to reaching the shore. ... With my head above the surface I figured the only way out of this was to dive underneath the bodies and go for the shore. Holding my breath I submerged and propelled myself slowly toward shore till my hands were digging into mud below and my back was feeling the weight of the bodies above. Heaving up through the bodies, I frantically pushed myself toward the bank and into a thicket of willows. I felt exhausted.

While catching my breath I wondered whether I had really made it. Having disturbed the closely packed balance of the corpses, I saw a few drift loose and begin their journey down the river. I was still lying hidden with my face buried in the willow thicket, trying to regain my strength, when a commanding voice boomed down from above me. “Come on up here!”

Stevan's story both illuminates how entrenched ethnic nationalist conflicts in the Balkans might persist to this day -- and illustrates the mad, meaningless serendipity which determines who lives once war tears civilized society into pieces.
Though today marks the end of World War I in western Europe, we would do well to remember that the armistice on the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour, meant less than nothing in eastern and central Europe. The hostilities unleashed by the fall of the Austrian and Russian empires escalated for years in those regions. Robert Gerwarth tells that story in The Vanquished.
And then there is that unhappy region we in the US and Europe call "the Middle East." The victorious European powers cut up the fragments of the Ottoman Empire, established "nations" defined more by lines on maps than affinities, began the process of implanting a Jewish state in land long occupied by indigenous others, and generally created a cauldron of seething enmities that persist still today. World War I never ended there either; and we scarcely noticed.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Can you see Sutro Tower through the haze?

I had hoped for a quiet recuperative weekend ... resuming Walking San Francisco while snapping photos.

But such was not to be. Smoke from the wildfires makes being outside intolerable, bringing on drippy eyes, a burning throat, and running nose.

Saturday scenery: Reno is beautiful

Amidst the intensity and anxiety of a political campaign, it was easy to forget this truth about our surroundings.

Until the last three hectic weeks, E.P. and I ran laps around this lovely human-made pond, saying good morning to the resident egrets.

The pond is a hidden gem.

On 90+F degree days in September, it was hard to credit the posted warnings to "stay off the ice." But by the end of campaign season, mornings were in the 20s. And the pond was still lovely.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Friday cat blogging

Morty's fans will be glad to know that he let us into the house on our return from Reno, though he still appears a little perturbed by the reappearance of his delinquent servants. Who are these people to think they can make me swallow my blood pressure meds?

The zombie lives

It was supposed to be dead by now. But it is worth pointing out that from last week until December 15, enrollment is open for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

The Kaiser Family Foundation hosts a free calculator that lays out available options and costs for people purchasing insurance through the health insurance "marketplaces."

Meanwhile, Idaho, Utah and Nebraska voters may have elected Republican representatives, but they also voted to expand Medicaid to their needy populations under the federal program.

The notion that the government has a responsibility to provide some sort of access to health care is taking root. Democrats ran on this radical proposition in many forms in different areas -- and out-polled fear and racism by a national seven percent majority.

Next job: make healthcare availability universal and affordable.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The impact of our campaign in Reno came as a surprise ...

Washoe County Registrar of Voters, Deanna Spikula, said the midterm turnout in the Reno area far exceeded the 55 percent to 65 percent rate her department expected based on previous elections. Washoe County logged a 70.1 percent turnout rate.

“Over 70 percent turnout is just an incredible midterm for us,” she said.

Nevada Independent

Shows what can happen if campaigns devote resources to talking with people who are eligible to vote but who have not formed the voting habit. Most of those people are low income, of color, and/or young. Our folks count too.

Jacky Rosen victory speech

Still enjoying having played a part in electing this woman to the US Senate from Nevada. I seldom watch politicians speaking -- it's seldom a rewarding exercise. But my UniteHERE/Culinary Workers union teammates saw this live on election night and insisted I should watch. It's a little long; but hey, I got to cut her some slack since she'd just won a tough election.

The best parts is when she reminisces about working as a cocktail waitress at a casino to put herself through college -- and points out that same casino is the location of this victory party she is addressing.

I also liked seeing her warm relationship with the women who'd been her team.

May this Democratic Senator have a long, fruitful career sticking up for the working people of her state.

Give the video a whirl if curious.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

They stayed and they voted ...

Yesterday in Nevada, our candidates, new US Senator Jacky Rosen and new Governor Steve Sisolak, swept to victory by wide margins. A surge of determined voters in the last three hours kept the polls open long after the official closing as those in line at 7pm were allowed to cast ballots.

Mobilized by the Culinary Workers Union which represents workers in the hospitality/gaming industry, the state's diverse low wage working population made their own blue wave in Las Vegas. We did our bit through the union UniteHERE in the Reno area. It was a great day in Nevada for the people make the beds, do the laundry, and cook your breakfasts.

Time for me to get one of those breakfasts ... more on a tough election when I've had more sleep.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Thoughts for Election Day

Thoughts for a long election day.

"... I think the closest thing to defining 'American' is a false sense of safety."

Poet Javier Zamora

From an always irritating commentator who occasionally offers wisdom:

"The Italian leftist, Antonio Gramsci, famously wrote, 'The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.' We live in such a time, and we have in front of us one of those morbid symptoms: the current Republican Party. You know what to do."

Andrew Sullivan

There are historical parallels:

“In South Africa, they used to say, ‘Only a dying mule kicks the hardest.’ So that’s what you are seeing.”

the Rev. William Barber

Lest we forget:

"We should vote as if our lives depend on it. Maybe they do."

Christine Emba

Monday, November 05, 2018

On Tuesday, cast your vote for hope and against ignorance

A friend who works with the Central American human rights organization Cristosal writes about the scary "caravan" of the desperate:

In these final hours before Election Day, the Trump Administration and many Republican candidates will continue to flood the media with racist lies about people coming to our border seeking asylum. These lies make it all about danger to "us" and obscure what is going on in Central America that so many people would choose to flee their homes and undertake a dangerous journey to our increasingly hostile border.

These lies obscure the complex, historical reasons why people flee--reasons rooted in decades- and centuries-long issues of inequity and impunity now exacerbated by a multi-year drought in the region. These lies also obscure basic facts of international law and human rights recognized in the 1948 International Declaration of Human Rights: that all people have the right to migrate and to seek safety and asylum when their own government fails to protect them. 

Many even sensible people are buying into these lies, e.g., the lies that the Democrats and/or George Soros are paying people to join caravans to "destroy America." That the caravans are full of gang members and possibly even hidden ISIS or other Islamist terrorists coming here to kill us. That these are s*$#(!!% people from s*$#(!!% countries, unworthy to join us.

People are believing the lies that the caravans represent a dangerous new flood of people when in fact the numbers joining the caravans are on a par with those leaving the region monthly for the past several years, and there is great attrition along the way. The lies that a band of mostly extremely poor families, the majority women and children, with a few belongings in a plastic grocery bag or a school backpack, represent a national security risk that requires sending 15,000 U.S. troops to the border at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars that could be much better spent on non-militaristic solutions.

By making it all about danger to "us," these politically motivated lies obscure the truth that the people joining the caravans are by and larger some of the poorest, most vulnerable people in our hemisphere ...

Are we really so frightened we can't see weak and vulnerable people for who they are? Apparently the GOP hopes so ...

Sunday, November 04, 2018

What it is really like to work on a election: campaigns are ecological disaster areas

In order to stay organized, you must throw out materials that have become obsolete -- rap sheets, no-longer usable early voting door hangers, boxes the literature came in, turf notes. Out! Every day.

In order to keep going, everyone must be fed and watered (and soda-ed). We create 4 and 5 and 6 monster trash bags of food-associated garbage, everyday.

In order to stay healthy, we clean the bathrooms of paper towels and other effluvia -- more than once a day.

No wonder landlords aren't thrilled to rent to campaigns. We do what we have to do.

Criminal drug pushing

From the New York Times. Evidently the GOPers are willing to kill off the communities that support their diseased party to nudge up the profits of the drug companies. Vote these sickos out on Tuesday!

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Crunch time

Volunteers pour into Reno today to do their bit to get out the vote for Jacky Rosen for US Senate. Early voting has ended and, if people voted their party tendencies, she is ahead. But there is a lot of pavement pounding yet to go in preparation for Election Day.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Who's afraid of who?

My new friend Roy Eidelson who has come to work on the UniteHERE Reno campaign to help flip a Senate seat shares a psychologist's perspective on a A Tale of Two Caravans.

It makes sense that Donald Trump is worried about an approaching caravan. But it’s not the one you’re probably thinking of: the few thousand desperate Central Americans who’ve banded together and are slowly making their way through Mexico toward the U.S. border. These migrants have broken no laws in undertaking their difficult and dangerous journey, and seeking asylum here is their legal right.

No, the caravan that’s actually giving Trump and the GOP panicky night fevers is comprised of tens of millions of U.S. citizens. Committed to countering the horrors of the past two years—and the past week—they’re heading to polling places across the country with a single goal in mind: to vote some of the president’s fondest enablers out of office. ...

Read it all here.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

After all, we make this media ...

Kevin Drum has been thinking about whether our internet addiction makes the world a worse place. He thinks not.

I once wrote that the internet makes smart people smarter and dumb people dumber. Likewise, it might very well make good people better and bad people worse. But on average, that doesn’t mean the world is a worse place. So why does it seem so much worse?

That’s pretty easy: the internet boasts an immediacy that allows it to pack a bigger punch than any previous medium. But this is hardly something new. Newspapers packed a bigger punch than the gossipmonger who appeared in your village every few weeks. Radio was more powerful than newspapers. TV was more powerful than radio. And social media is more powerful than TV.

Contrary to common opinion, however, this has little to do with the nature of these mediums. Sure, they’ve become more visceral over time: first words, then pictures, then voice, then moving images, and finally all of that packaged together and delivered with the power of gossip from a trusted friend. But what’s really different is how much time we spend on them ...

Does all this mean that there’s more news than ever before? Of course not. Does it mean that there seems to be more news than ever before? Oh my, yes.

And that brings me circuitously to my point: broadly speaking, the world is not worse than it used to be. We simply see far more of its dark corners than we used to, and we see them in the most visceral possible way: live, in color, and with caustic commentary. Human nature being what it is, it’s hardly surprising that we end up thinking the world is getting worse. ...

Maybe I am not quite so sanguine as he is, but I think we'll adjust to preserve our humanity while enjoying our technological marvels. I could be wrong.

I'll find out if I'm wrong insofar as I engage with the real world alongside taking advantage of the immediacy of so much information, both painful and delightful.
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