Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Blog on temporary hold ...

Here's the view out the window in the lovely space in Vermont where we're staying for an undetermined time to assist a friend. It's cold (0F) but beautiful.

I may post occasionally, but on an undetermined schedule.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday cat blogging

Jack is a mighty hunter, bringing home the disemboweled remnants of flying squirrels. But he's also not above taking advantage of a little human-provided stove heat.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Probably not this day

The good folks of the volunteer fire department never got around to giving their signage a seasonal upgrade. But fortunately there is a volunteer fire department.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

These young people are supporting the Los Angeles teacher strike

Californians for Justice organizes high school age youth to envision and fight for racial justice in their lives. The young people have campaigned for several years for what they call "relationship centered schools." They are demanding that the schools ensure they encounter adults they can relate to. When such adults are lacking, students disengage. When they meet teachers and others who care about them, who do not cling to unequal expectations of them based on race or zip code, they can thrive.

And so CFJ youth are huge supporters of the UTLA strike. The teachers and the kids are on the same track: if the powers-that-be don't find the money to pay teachers better and to provide needed resources, they fear they'll lose the adults who can serve as their anchors:

Without the support of public officials and the additional investment of resources, teachers–especially those working in low-income schools with predominantly Black and Brown student populations–are being forced to leave their schools and communities behind to find living wages. We’ve already seen this in Bay Area communities like Oakland, where the district is struggling to retain teachers–and teachers of color in particular–due to the housing crisis and the increased cost of living.

This pattern of teacher turnover is detrimental to students and communities of color and makes it hard to build Relationship Centered Schools where all students, staff, and administrators feel safe, supported, and capable of thriving.

CFJ Student Leader Jiawen Wang who is a student at Oakland High expressed this concern recently: “When teachers come and go we lose the strong connections students need to feel safe and comfortable at school. We can struggle and fall behind in our classes. We can become overwhelmed and not know who to turn to for assistance. We can check out and go through an entire day without talking in class or connecting with an adult.”

Los Angeles and the entire state of California can do better by the young people who are the future.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

"My faith is the key to my optimism."

When former President George H.W. Bush died in November, the glaring contrast between him and the current White House occupant made for fulsome eulogies from all sides. After all, whatever he was, he was an adult, not a toddler; courageous in war, not a whining coward; and competent, not an self-indulgent bumbler. I couldn't much praise him -- his pardons sweeping the Iran-Contra crimes under a legal rug disqualified him from my admiration. But others differed and many chose to speak well of the dead.

It all reminded me that we do have a living former president who has proved himself over decades to be a genuinely decent human being. Jimmy Carter (in office 1976-80) was perhaps not the wisest of presidents. By unnecessarily inviting the deposed Shah (dictatorial monarch) of Iran into the country for medical treatment, he set in train events which have put the US in conflict with Iranian nationalism to this day. As a US politician, he didn't understand the importance of unions to the Democratic coalition, contributing mightily his Republican successors' successful assault on labor.

He wasn't a great president.

But he has been a fine example of how a former president can make himself (still no herselves!) a socially useful force for good. The media always focuses on the warm fuzzy stuff, like building houses in poor communities with Habitat for Humanity and teaching Bible classes at his humble Georgia Baptist church. But Carter has traveled the world encouraging free elections and civil peace, while speaking unpopular truths when he has felt he must. For example, he was excoriated for labeling Israel's treatment of its Palestinian subjects an analogue of South Africa's white supremacist "apartheid."

So GHW Bush's obsequies reminded me that I wanted to read Jimmy Carter's latest and probably last of 32 books, issued last year in his 93rd year. Faith: a journey for all strikes me as likely akin to the Bible study talks he has been delivering for decades, yet designed to provide the contours of the life story he'd like told at his own funeral. I read it in an audio version which he reads himself, clearly and sweetly; I would highly recommend this to anyone curious about Carter.

We know he's a Christian, a forthright follower of Jesus, but not therefore a closed minded fundamentalist, a type he abhors. He makes it clear that his faith set his path.

I believe ... that Christians are called to plunge into the life of the world, and to inject the moral and ethical values of our faith into the processes of governing. At the same time, there must be an absolute prohibition against granting any control by government over our religious freedoms.

... To me, God is the essence of all that is good, and my faith in God induces a pleasant feeling of responsibility to act accordingly.

In a time when the religious right has overrun white evangelical Protestantism, it's hard to recall how simply conventional these views once were in those quarters. In 1978, while serving as president, he sought to convey the breadth of the calling he believes should define his co-religionists while speaking to a Baptist audience:

What are the goals of a person or a denomination or a country? They are all remarkably the same: a desire for peace; a need for humility, for examining one's faults and turning away from them; a commitment to human rights in the broadest sense of the words, based on a moral society concerned with the alleviation of suffering because of deprivation or hatred or hunger or physical affliction; and a willingness, even an eagerness, to share one's ideals, one's faith with others; to translate love in a person to justice.

No wonder the political world thought/thinks him a crazy idealist. Yet his faith enables him to call out the precariousness of human society with a forthrightness practicing politicians know they must avoid.

It is sobering to realize that the average human intelligence's probably not changed appreciably during the last ten thousand years. In fact, the total capacity of brains of Neanderthals has been found to be greater than that of modern humans. We also know that the process of learning has greatly accelerated during recent times with our improved ability to share information rapidly.

For the first time, we have become aware that our own existence is threatened by things such as nuclear weapons and global warming. These recognized threats are, perhaps, an ongoing test of our human intelligence, our freedom, and our ability to shape our own destiny. The human challenge now is to survive by having sustained faith in each other and in the highest common moral principles that we have spasmodically evolved, and through mutual understanding and peaceful cooperation in addressing the discerned challenges to our common existence.

Carter declares himself calm inside and ready for death, knowing death must come soon. His faith tells him that "the love of God will prevail" in the creation that God has made.

When Carter dies, I doubt he'll receive the sort of effusive send-off that we've just seen for Bush the Elder. Though Carter undoubtedly lacks for nothing, he didn't use his post-presidency to make himself wealthy or even to try to continue to exercise power, conventionally understood. His faith may seem incomprehensible to folks who are not Christian or even not his kind of Christian. But he sure seems to have gotten something admirable out the moral and ethical structure within which he has rooted his life.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Friday, January 11, 2019

Rant: there's no secret sauce hidden in big data

Much of the media, including Sue Halpern at the New Yorker, think the revelation that GOP operative Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with a Russian agent is the long sought smoking gun -- because, well, having targeting data gave the Russians' surreptitious online interventions some magical power. Halpern reports:

Not long after the election, in an interview with “Frontline,” [proud Trump pollster Tony] Fabrizio offered a glimpse of how this data was gathered and how crucial it was to Trump’s victory. “One of the groups that we created early on in the campaign from the polling was what I called Trump targets,” Fabrizio said. “These were voters who wanted to change direction, wanted a new direction, weren’t voting for Trump, weren’t hardcore Democrats, weren’t hardcore liberals, weren’t hardcore Hillary supporters.” Knowing whom to target, where they were, and which issues resonated with them gave Trump’s digital team crucial information for its advertisements and social-media messaging. “We would report out to the senior team what markets those voters were concentrated in,” Fabrizio told “Frontline.”

Come on, that's just classic polling vendor flimflam, claiming that their piece of the work was THE essential element that won the victory. It would have been professional malpractice if Fabrizio's firm, Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, had failed to provide targeting information to the Trump organization; that's what pollsters are hired for. Yet it wasn't rocket science to come up with a profile of a plausible, perhaps persuadable, Trump voter. It's far more likely that the pollsters confirmed the intuitions of the campaign than that they came up with the secret sauce that won the election for their candidate (and the Russians' candidate).

I've worked in a lot of elections. I've worked with big data and done some targeting. I understand that elections are won with good targeting, working to influence the appropriate voters whether by persuasion or by increasing turnout among supporters who might not vote. It's always important not to encourage or sometimes to discourage the other sides' voters. But deep marketing knowledge, which is what social media can provide, is no more valuable, and perhaps less valuable, in that project than more obvious data: location, population demographics, and voting histories.

At the Washington Post, Phillip Bump has analyzed the known Russian activity on Facebook from 2015 through 2017, charted those interventions, and concluded there was no magical formula.

After all, the common understanding is that Russia’s interference efforts included sophisticated targeting of specific voting groups on Facebook, which could have made the difference in states that Trump narrowly won on his way to an electoral-vote victory.

That understanding about Russia’s sophisticated targeting, though, is not supported by the evidence — if it’s not flat-out wrong.

He shows that Russian disinformation largely went into interventions that were nationwide rather than directed at battleground states -- and that much of what has been uncovered occurred after November 2017. Bump's reporting corrects attractive myths.
We have plenty enough confirmed facts to show that Russia sought to elect Donald Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton. We also have plenty to prove that lots of people around Trump and probably Trump himself knew Russia was at work on their behalf. Why else have so many in the Trump camp lied about their contacts?

The lawyers tell us that we can't say the Trump campaign committed "treason" for having conspired with a hostile foreign power. Okay, it wasn't "treason," because the Founding Fathers knew that those in power would abuse any wide definition of that crime. But we're not wrong to see in Trump and Russia playing footsie a monstrous betrayal of the country.

But what all this does not prove or even suggest is that Russia's use of Manafort's polling data put Trump over the top. Not even hacking Democratic Party polling models did that. Trump and his Russian buddies worked to inflame and inflate our differences, to raise up racial hate and religious bigotry, to nurture cynicism and despair. But that's on us. There's no magic secret technological alternative to the long hard work of healing the violence within our society.

Friday cat blogging

The boy likes to help the knitter.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

What is truth in Trump's season of lies?

Erudite Partner's latest is online; she writes about the toll taken by Living in a Country Where Credibility Is Ancient History. She warns:

[the] popular belief that nobody really does or can know anything is the perfect soil for an authoritarian leader to take root.

Or so it seems until people find the garbage piling up in a government shutdown over a wall they didn't ask for or without power when a warming-enhanced hurricane blows away their electric power supply.

Truth may be hard to grasp and hard to confront. But reality makes a habit of biting back.

Go read Erudite Partner on the implications for democratic (small "d") organizing and popular mobilization.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Let's give peace a chance

This won't receive much attention what with Trump's government shutdown and his bleating about a fictional border crisis that requires a fantasy wall -- but Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group and Jon Finer of the Council on Foreign Relations offer some thoughtful advice to people concerned for peace who are revolted by the Preznit. It comes down to a simple thought: just because he's an impulsive, ignorant hate merchant, his instincts about ending endless wars are not crazy, merely ineptly executed (if indeed they come to be executed).

There is no shortage of policies and decisions made by President Trump worth criticizing, but since the earliest days of his presidential campaign, he has expressed at least one belief that deserves to be encouraged, not denigrated: the desire to disentangle the United States from costly overseas conflicts...

So much is objectionable about the Trump era that it is hard for critics to know which targets to strike. But principled opposition requires that progressive opponents of President Trump not distort their beliefs for quick rhetorical wins. Whatever administration eventually follows will have many messes to clean up and will need to distinguish those that truly matter.

Inevitably, the United States will face threats that will require the use of military force. But we ought to continually question our enduring involvement in faraway conflicts, particularly when they come at a terrible cost to the United States and local populations as in Afghanistan and Iraq; make us complicit in abuses as in Yemen; entangle us with unsavory partners as occurred with some elements of the Syrian opposition; or exacerbate anti-American sentiment as our broader counterterrorism campaign often did.

Troop withdrawals can be messy and costly even in the best of circumstances. But that is not a reason to drift into forever wars while searching for the perfect exit. It is a reason to be disciplined about objectives and judicious about intervening in the first place....

... So much is objectionable about the Trump era that it is hard for critics to know which targets to strike. But principled opposition requires that progressive opponents of President Trump not distort their beliefs for quick rhetorical wins. ...

It's worth reading it all.

Once again, a humane political stance demands that we learn to walk and chew gum at the same time: No Ban, No Wall, No Forever Wars.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

A city ecosystem

Construction sites and humans provide fodder for rats. Hawks hunt the rats. These days we keep our cats indoors and our dogs suspect they are overmatched.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Dems can press Trump on shutdown

I politely messaged mine (Feinstein and Harris).

Isn't it time for Democratic Senators to refuse to vote on ANYTHING until the Majority Leader McConnell puts bills passed by House to reopen the government up for a vote? If the President wants to veto them, so be it. But you can make him do it if you show some backbone.

Did you?

Found while clearing out old papers ...

She is lovely, isn't she? And after 50 years, the USofA still finds her as problematic as this old magazine does. Apparently LOOK didn't think of asking her to speak for herself ...

Sunday, January 06, 2019

An Epiphany reflection: 1979 and today

Fritz Eichenberg, printmaker extraordinaire for The Catholic Worker newspaper, created this image of foreign potentates bringing gifts of food to the Child who heralds new life for U.N.'s International Year of the Child. That year the refugee crisis struggling for the world's attention and compassion was that of the Vietnamese boat people, 54,000 of whom fled their war devastated country on leaky small boats in just the month of June. Wealthy countries eventually agreed to an Orderly Departure Program enabling refugees to migrate legally to the United States, France, Australia, and Canada.

That was then. And now, according to the International Refuge Committee:
More people have been forced to flee their homes by conflict and crisis than at any time since World War II.
Millions have fled Syria; many more would escape Yemen and war torn countries in the horn of Africa if they could; desertification, warming, and conflict drive people to move in the Sahel; and Central Americans flee their failing states. Today too many refugee children are beyond the help of any visitors.
The body of Syrian refugee 3 year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Greek beach in 2015. As of last June, 34,361 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in the last 20 years.
I know no easy answers, but I will refuse to look away.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Government rebuked over no fly list lawsuit

Rahinah Ibrahim, then a Stanford grad student, now a professor of architecture in her native Malaysia, was placed on a no fly/terrorist watch list in 2004. She was prevented from returning to her studies or even visiting the U.S. Her U.S. citizen daughter was also caught up in the ban. Federal lawyers fought tooth and nail against her lawsuit to challenge her designation.

Until 2014. At that point, an FBI agent told a judge in closed testimony that Ibrahim's exclusion was just a mistake. TechDirt shared some of the heavily redacted transcript:

Agent Kelley misunderstood the directions on the form and erroneously nominated Dr. Ibrahim to the TSA's no-fly list [redacted]. He did not intend to do so. This was a mistake, he admitted at trial. He intended to nominate her to the [very long redaction]. He checked the wrong boxes, filling out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions on the form. He made this mistake even though the form stated, "It is recommended the subject NOT be entered into the following selected terrorist screening databases."


Though the government gave up its defense of its no fly list mistake, Ibrahim remained excluded from the U.S. (possibly because of unproved allegations about her husband) and her attorneys were only partially compensated for the $3.6 million they'd spent preparing this complicated international case. Last Wednesday an appeals court said the government should be ordered to pay up.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an 8-3 ruling, found that federal lawyers engaged in “scorched earth litigation” for nearly a decade against the former Stanford University graduate student, even though they knew she posed no threat.

“Once the government discovers that its litigation position is baseless, it may not continue to defend it,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, a Clinton appointee, wrote for the majority.

Let's hope this brings us near the completion of this particular panicked government response to the 9/11 terrorists attacks. In the early '00s both politicians and federal spooks were scared stupid that additional horrors might be immanent and defended themselves from responsibility by trampling over vulnerable individuals. I wonder if federal judges confronted with an outright racist president, his thuggish Heimat Security Department, and a neo-Confederate Attorney General (now cast aside), are more alert to abuses that they tolerated for a decade under weak "national security" claims? Perhaps.
Full disclosure: Erudite Partner and I were told at the San Francisco airport that we were on the no fly list in 2002. Through the ACLU, we sought disclosure about this secret list in a federal case that dragged on through 2006.

Photo via Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM)

Saturday scenery: a San Francisco tour de force

If you live in this city, you may have noticed this beautiful trompe-l'œil paint job on what is really a quite conventional house. I assume that if you decorate your house this way, you expect people to do what I did when passing it while Walking San Francisco: take lots of pictures.

Click on any of the images for a larger view.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Friday cat blogging

Morty occupies one of his favorite spots. Sometimes he'll manage to strike a key or two and really screw things up. But mostly he simply sits, awaiting attention.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

No complacency here

IndivisibleSF rallied energetically outside newly re-installed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's local office today.

Apparently there are plenty of activists who have no intention of allowing themselves to be reduced to political spectators now that the midterm elections are over.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit I'd never been to an Indivisible rally before. My active politics has taken place in other settings. I enjoyed this; the folks in attendance were a lot like many volunteers on the Reno campaign, lots of older people, probably retired, who could get off at midday on a Thursday.

The content was fascinating, consisting of a series of speakers offering a sort of basic civics course. They explained how Congressional procedure works and fails to work, gave a short history of immigration panics going back to President John Adams, added some Constitutional basics (too abstract for my taste), and finished with an explication of HR 1, congressional Dems' voting protection reforms put forward in the new Congress.

This sort of thing is hard to do while yelling into a mic on a street corner; IndivisibleSF speakers achieved it audibly and accessibly. The recent campaign showed me that civics education is something we need at every level. On that campaign, it proved helpful to start by explaining what a new Senator and new Governor might be able to do. Even informed citizens don't have that information foremost in their minds.

This crowd was on the immediate impeachment track. I think they'll be tolerant if they see Dems in Congress doing the work of building a case from among Trump's manifold crimes against our system and the people. But they'll howl if they are convinced their newly elected representatives are dragging their feet.

I'm a lousy chanter, but Indivisible has worthy slogans. I liked this one:


This rally embodied the spirit we'll need for years of #resistance. And for an arduous project of democratic reconstruction once we win.

Good news for signature collectors; perhaps not so good for democracy

We all voted in November and a good thing too. Despite conventional wisdom that this is a moderate conservative country, when more of us vote, progressive measures and everyday people win.

In particular, we all voted in California, mostly for better Congesscritters and to make a statement. But as part of that package, some 12.4 million of us voted in the Governor's race between Gov. Gavin and some ho-hum GOPer. That'a a lot. In 2014 only 7.3 million of us voted in Gov. Jerry running against Some Dude.

The number of votes in the Governor's race sets how many signatures are required to put something on the state ballot. Those people who bother you with petitions need to collect 5 percent of the most recent turnout for Governor for an initiative and 8 percent for a state constitutional amendment. From 2014

it took 365,879 signatures to qualify an initiative and 585,407 for an amendment. ...

... [high turnout in 2018] jumped the initiative threshold to 623,212 signatures and 997,139 for amendments.

SF Chronicle

Almost all signature collection is accomplished by small semi-professional armies of folks who make their living at it. Signature gatherers are paid some $1.50 to $5 for each name they collect, depending on how close they are to the measure's deadline and what sponsors will bear. It's a tough job, but good workers can make a living. Sure -- they are a pain when you try to rush by them. But I try to be polite. I've done some collection on a volunteer basis for measures trying to save money. There's no need to be mean to the pest with the clipboard.

Who pays to put initiatives on our ballot? The rule of thumb recently was that it cost at least 1 million dollars. I imagine the new cost will escalate towards 2 million. Clearly this won't get done unless some rich donors want us to vote on something. Maybe we'll see a few less obscure measures, but we do also have more than our share of newly minted millionaires with political (and often self-serving) ideas.

California's proliferating ballot measures have long proved a mixed blessing for progressives ideas. Once in a while we can win something, but we also have to fight repeated defensive actions against often deceptive conservative attempts to get the voters to enshrine prejudices and tax breaks that legislatures won't pass.

Ah democracy ... colored and co-opted by money ... but still staggering forward.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

New year, new laws revealing police abuses

It's the season for catalogues of new laws taking effect. (Here's a good one.) The California legislature sure passed a lot of items last year -- and outgoing Gov. Jerry signed them too.

The one that most grabs my attention is that, finally, California police departments will no longer be allowed to hide the discipline records of their officers from public view.

The new law opens up interview transcripts, evidence and full investigatory reports to the public, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike.

... Lara Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, said the measure could expose officer misconduct that was long withheld from defendants and could lead to numerous convictions being dismissed.

“We are going to see a lot of skeletons falling out of the closets dating back years, if not decades. That means people who were convicted unjustly and unfairly will finally get a chance to be heard,” Bazelon said.


In addition to requiring such records be opened, on July 1 another transparency law requires release of police body camera footage of officer-involved shootings and use of force within 45 days of an incident.

Forty years ago, powerful California police unions won the prohibitions on transparency that are being swept away this year. For decades, police political endorsements and police union cash ruled in Sacramento and most localities.

No more. All across the country, Black Lives Matter called out unpunished police killings. In San Francisco, police murders of Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, Luis Gongora Pat and Mario Woods sparked resistance to police impunity. In the recent San Francisco mayoral election, none of the major candidates were open to the police union endorsement; the powerful Police Officers Association had become toxic.

Emotionally, these new laws don't feel like much: what's a new statute weighed against lives snuffed out? No cops have suffered legal consequences for these shootings. It's still the law that fear is a good enough excuse for a police officer to start firing. And of course transparency is not self-enforcing; it's going to require vigilance to ensure that police authorities really do release records and videos. Where they can, police departments shredded some records before the transparency law took hold.

But these new laws are concrete improvements won by people who have struggled diligently against unchecked police power. So long as money and race determine who matters in society and on the streets, that struggle won't end. But let's celebrate incremental victories.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Bring on the New Year

... and on to the next adventure ...
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