Friday, October 22, 2021

Friday cat blogging: do not disturb

Here's Janeway at her most adorable, enjoying a deep sleep.
She's found her spot for cold weather -- right in front of a hot air vent.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Exposing who is paying to undermine our freedoms

Judd Legum has the story of how big mainstream corporations talk a good game about adopting feminist and anti-racist values -- and then keep shoveling cash to GOP legislators who vote for restrictions on rights. And their friends in the media play along.

Last week, a Democratic Super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, attempted to place a television ad in three Florida markets highlighting donations from Comcast, Disney, and AT&T to anti-abortion legislators.

But the ad was rejected by local cable providers. ...

Comcast claimed the ad violated its policy on "personal attacks." The ad, of course, was not personal but reflected an important policy concern. Spectrum said the ad violated its policies without elaborating. 

Earlier this month, the same Super PAC was blocked from running digital ads on the Dallas Morning News that criticized AT&T for supporting sponsors of Texas' abortion ban. 

It appears there are two sets of rules. Corporations are able to spend unlimited sums on TV and online to burnish their image. But critics of corporate power are not given access to the same platforms.

Two-faced corporations have a lot to hide.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

We need truth. We need truth tellers.

The Swedish committee which awards the Nobel Peace Prize annually chose two brave journalists as this year's winners. Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia both risk their lives in order to publish factual news which their violent rulers hate and fear.

Here's a short clip of Ressa explaining why she chooses her dangerous vocation.

If you don't have facts, you can't have truth. If you don't have truth, you can't have trust. If you don't have any of these three, democracy as we know it is dead.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A little Cassandra-ing of my own: war with China?

Every obituary for recently deceased General Colin Powell leads with his recognition that, at the pinnacle of a stellar career, he lent his prestige to the catastrophe which was the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  He called his war advocacy "a blot" which "will always be part of my record." Indeed.

A whole lot of U.S. foreign policy sages (and old guys who play them on TV) seem to be seeking resurrection after the War on Terror's collapse by once again looking abroad for "monsters to destroy."

And this time, if they don't manage to conduct some deft diplomacy, they could very well lead us into mass casualties and even a nuclear exchange -- as well as losing the war.

Journalist Peter Beinart was a sucker for the Iraq war, but he's not going there again. He warns against a developing bipartisan call for the U.S. to declare our willingness to fight to preserve the independence of Taiwan from China as crazy dangerous.
Since the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I’ve often wondered how much US foreign policymakers have learned from the disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq. This week offered fresh evidence that, when it comes to US policy toward China, the answer is: not nearly enough. 
In the months before America overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government, America’s leaders recklessly downplayed the war’s potential costs. ... Prominent figures, including prominent Democrats, are doing the same thing today. They’re downplaying the potential costs of an even more dangerous war, this time over Taiwan. ... 
Representative Elaine Luria ... wants to proactively give Biden, and all future presidents ... [authority for] war with China over Taiwan.  
What might such a war entail? For one thing, the US would likely lose. As Fareed Zakaria has noted, “The Pentagon has reportedly enacted 18 war games against China over Taiwan, and China has prevailed in every one.” ... The US could lose as many troops in the first few days of a war over Taiwan as it lost in the entirety of the Afghan and Iraq Wars. There’s also a genuine risk of nuclear war. ...
As was true after 9/11, the U.S. is profoundly ignorant of the passions that our big-footing about in someone else's complex historical context could (and does) evoke. China is an emerging military and economic superpower, the equal to anything we've got, in the grip of intense nationalism. To the great advantage of its current authoritarian leader, masses of Chinese appear to be very ready to subsume any domestic grievances to repudiate the "century of humiliation," the exploitative encounter with the West -- that means us. Chinese genuinely consider Taiwan merely a secessionist province, a relic of the Chinese civil war of the late 1940s, which should rightly be reabsorbed by the mainland.

Here's the best I can do for an analogy: Think how we'd react if a bunch of right wingers forcibly took over the state of Hawaii, repressed the present Hawaiian population, and then thumbed their noses at the U.S. mainland. And if, from across the Pacific Ocean, China backed up the wingers now ruling Hawaii. I suspect we'd have feelings.

A significant difference is that Taiwan is only 100 miles from the Chinese mainland, not 2500 miles.

And another difference is that the Taiwanese managed to claw their way to building their own vibrant economy and an enviable liberal democratic state since breaking off from the mainland. Modern Taiwan is a success for that rule-of-law idea we claim to aspire to. This seems to be a desirable outcome to most Taiwanese. China, on the other hand, seems to be getting more oppressive by the day. If mainland China gets its way, Taiwan would go the way of Hong Kong, its freedoms eviscerated and its distinctiveness erased.

Former U.S. foreign service officer Chas Freeman, who happened to be serving as an interpreter on President Nixon's ground-breaking trip to China, offers his nuanced account of the tangled U.S. commitments and interests in Taiwan and China in the linked article. We have not been sure-footed and if we are to avoid war, we will need to be. And Taiwan looks to be in very rough seas.

Beinart begs for more U.S. sophistication before we let our leaders take us into another "dumb war, a rash war."
... through many Afghan or Chinese eyes, the US doesn’t look like a champion of freedom at all. It looks like the most recent foreign power seeking to violently subjugate their nation.
In official Washington, in fact, the legacy of Western imperialism is even more absent from discussions of China than from discussions of Afghanistan, where people at least occasionally trot out cliches about the Hindu Kush being a “graveyard of empire.”  
... But without discussing China’s “century of humiliation” at the hands of Britain, France, Japan and yes, the US—which dated from roughly the First Opium War in 1839 until the end of the Chinese civil war in the late 1940s—it’s hard to understand why the CCP can convince many of its constituents that America’s rhetoric about democracy, economic fairness, and the “rules-based order” is a smokescreen for its efforts to keep China subservient and divided. “Every schoolchild in China and every educated Chinese person knows about the ‘century of humiliation,’” the historian Stephen R. Platt told The New York Times a couple of years ago. Has a top Biden administration official ever publicly used the phrase?
So here we are again. Are the people of the U.S. ready to be led into a war on the other side of the Pacific in circumstances about which most of us know exactly nothing?

We have built up some resistance. By 2008, most of us knew Iraq and probably Afghanistan were futile adventures, more crimes than mistakes. So we elected Obama and discovered how little power politicians have to overcome the inertia of wars once they get underway. (Kudos to Joe Biden for cutting the cord on Afghanistan.)

But as was true after a similar popular evolution from jingoism to revulsion about the Vietnam war, enough time has passed so we're looking inward, not outward. Once again, our leaders threaten to get us embroiled in a context about which we are ignorant. Once again, as in 2001, there's no popular organized mass peace movement. Maybe we could start early this time -- inform ourselves as best we can -- and let the powers-that-be know we want them to navigate these shoals without war!

Monday, October 18, 2021

In which Erudite Partner raises up Cassandras for our time

As the late, and unlamented, War on Terror drifts out of memory, Congresswoman Barbara Lee has finally been rendered some props for standing up on the floor of Congress in 2001 and warning that our rush to vengeance was simply wrong. She urged that we should not “become the evil we deplore.” We didn't listen.

For this stance, she can be compared to the mythical daughter of the king of Troy in Homer's Odyssey, the princess Cassandra, who warned that fighting the Greeks would end in destruction of the kingdom. She saw horror ahead. Nobody listened.

In 2003, nobody who mattered listened to the literal millions of people around the world who warned against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. George W. Bush crashed ahead into ignominy and failure.

Erudite Partner praises Barbara Lee -- and asks us to look around and listen to the Cassandras of our time -- in her latest essay for TomDispatch.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Why won't they get their shots?

Most of us know someone who insists they won't get the coronavirus vaccine. As the number of unvaccinated persons shrinks, thanks to persistent persuasion and broader mandates, the sort of refusers I least understand are the hippie health nuts. Why would these nice, inoffensive folks be joining hard core libertarians protesting mask mandates and free shots? Eva Wiseman found such a person to profile in The dark side of wellness: the overlap between spiritual thinking and far-right conspiracies. The story is enlightening.

Melissa Rein Lively had always thought of herself as a spiritual person. Her interests were grounded in “wellness, natural health, organic food”, she lists for me today from her home in Arizona, “yoga, ayurvedic healing, meditation, etc.” When the pandemic hit she started spending more time online, on wellness sites that offered affirmations, recipes and, on health, the repeated message to “Do your research.” She’d click on a video of foods that boost immunity and she’d see a clip about the dangers of vaccines. ... 
“Much of what I read took a hard stance against the pharmaceutical industry and western medical philosophy, and was particularly critical of individuals like Bill Gates, who seemed to have an incredible amount of influence and involvement in public health policy,” continues Rein Lively. At first, she enjoyed what she was reading. She liked learning. She liked the community. She liked the idea that there were patriots in the government who were working quietly to help save the world. But as she clicked on and read about imminent genocide under the guise of a health crisis, she felt herself changing. ... 
She was becoming convinced that nothing was really what it seemed; that there was a carefully constructed narrative being told, which was designed to control society. “I was willing to expand my thinking and consider a completely alternative theory, especially during a time of unprecedented chaos. What if nothing was what it seemed?” It was shocking, she says, and horrifying, and also, “Oddly comforting. What I had felt I knew was true, and others knew the same thing. ..."
Ms. Lively eventually suffered a very public cognitive explosion in a Target store where she attacked an array of masks -- a performance which, because she possessed the cash to obtain real help, caused her to be hospitalized for a mental health intervention. This nudged her back into consensus reality. She's brave to tell her story.

Dr. Timothy Caulfield studies pseudoscience enthusiasms. He explains:

“There is a strong correlation between the embrace of ‘wellness woo’ and being susceptible to misinformation. And as conspiracy theories and misinformation become increasingly about ideology, it becomes easier to sell both wellness bunk and conspiracy theories as being ‘on brand.’ In other words, if you are part of our community, this is the cluster of beliefs you must embrace – Big Science is evil, supplements help, you can boost your immune system, vaccines don’t work…”
Selling pseudo-spirituality, pseudo-health products, and COVID misinformation in a New Age-ish package is good business for unscrupulous entrepreneurs. And for unscrupulous politicians.

• • •

Wiseman pointed me to a TikTok influencer, Abbie Richards, whose schematic presentation of a hierarchy of conspiracy theorizing is brilliant, funny, and scary all at once. I'm not a TikTok person, but here's Richards on YouTube. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Marion Coleman: Visions of the Past; Visions for the Future

Every phase of the re-purposing of the former U.S. Navy Shipyard at Hunters Point has been fraught. Acquired by the Navy in 1940, the prime Bay anchorage was used for repairs, as well as Cold War-era missile development and radiological research. By the time the base was closed in 1994, it had been designated a toxic Superfund site. The Navy was supposed to have cleaned up the area, but reports of radioactive hot spots continue to this day. 

The city gave the contract for redevelopment to the Lennar Corporation, a Fortune 500 global construction giant, which has built over 500 new condo units. Twenty percent of these were designated for "moderate income" buyers. In May 2021, buyers won a $6.3 million settlement compensating some purchasers for loss of value as the toxicity of their location remains under study. And the struggle between Lennar and the neighborhood is by no means over.

And then there were the artists. When the Navy buildings fell vacant, some local creators saw studio space. They had a good thing going in an otherwise little used facility. Some may enjoy a future renovation.

And there was the adjoining and long suffering Bayview community, San Francisco's last surviving Black neighborhood, which launched it's own artists.

The developers have thrown Bayview's Black artists a bone. On the hillside below the condo development, there's a display of reproductions of Marion Coleman's fiber collages replicating old photos of the local community. While Walking San Francisco, I stumbled among them unexpectedly.

The Postal Service has long played an outsized role in providing good jobs. Come on, Biden -- don't let Republican appointees kill it.

Yes, we need more trees!

These women would have been contributing to the WWII war effort by winding bandages. Yes, women really did that, my mother among them.

The Honey Bees played in the city league against Coca Cola, Southern Pacific, etc. long before Bayview's own Jackie Robinson broke the color bar in Major League Baseball.

You can visit these panels any good weather day; just drive to the end of Galvez Street and walk up the hill.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Computer woes

Ah, technology! When it works smoothly, it enhances life, or at least, productivity. When it doesn't work smoothly, it's frustrating as hell.

This week my faithful, elderly Mac finally gave up, inverting part of the screen. The condition is hard to describe. Here's a picture.

Note the right side -- the screen image has turned back on itself. To work with any element that required interaction on that side, I had to reach it by moving the cursor backward. I actually got to be able to do this.

So I gave up and bought a new machine.

Erudite Partner and Apple's Genius Bar kindly superintended the data migration from the old machine to the new.

It's all here in the new computer as I write. She's clean and fast. But that doesn't mean it all works as I expect, or at all. It will eventually feel as functional as the old one -- or maybe even better -- but for some time period I'll be tweaking and learning. 

I hate that.

Once upon a time, I was delighted by new technology, but I've long ago reached the stage where I value dependability over novelty. Computers are a tool. A tool is a fine thing, but, first and foremost, tools should work without making tasks harder. 

I know designers and marketers are thrilled by bells and whistles, but please, remember those of us who value simplicity and functionality. I am sure we are not a negligible part of the user universe.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Out and about observations

So what did I learn about our post-pandemic (we hope) city from walking 24th Street east of Mission, Valencia, 24th Street up the hill into Noe Valley, and Mission Street proper? Here are some surface impressions, probably overdrawn, but for what it is worth ...

There are plenty of empty and boarded up storefronts in all these commercial corridors. There are also plenty of dining sheds in what used to be parking spots.

This rather antic one is an extension of the Napper Tandy at 24th and South Van Ness. This establishment seems to be doing a good business, though more around the corner on 24th than here. In general, though there were gaps, the small businesses in the Latino Cultural District seemed to be soldiering on surprisingly well.

In Noe Valley, the dining sheds seemed more substantial and utilitarian. Restaurants which were open seemed to have considerable custom on a warm Saturday. But my impression was that the carnage among the small businesses that occupied street level store fronts was even more extreme than at the other end of 24th. Perhaps the rents were higher to begin with, so casualties of pandemic closures were more numerous?

By comparison, the Valencia corridor felt lively. And not just the dining sheds ... many retail storefronts were open and seemed to be getting traffic. As was true of all of us, pandemic survival was higher among the young and Valencia feels young, busy, and in a hurry.

Mission Street is another world. There's commerce alright. The BART plaza at 24th Street is an open air market -- many of the goods look as if they'd been pilfered from Walgreens. There are lots of closed stores in the section I walked -- far and away the highest percentage among these four commercial strips. But that doesn't mean the sidewalks are empty. There's also the most foot traffic here -- people of all races and gender presentations -- moving purposefully about their business. Yet the demise of so many long time businesses (and this was going on before the pandemic) make the street seem a little sad. There's life, but a little too much unhappy madness, great fatigue, and not enough joy.

They're back! Although a lot of the Silicon Valley folks are still working from home, the Google buses are once more crowding streets not built for such behemoths. Their absence was a gift of the virus.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Out and about on Mission Street (from 16th to 24th)

This stretch of Mission is the neighborhood at its grittiest, offering plenty of subjects with which to practice with my new lens.
One of the delights of living among newly arrived migrants is the quantity and quality of real food. We haven't destroyed their eating habits yet.
Folks around here don't hesitate to broadcast their hopes ...
... or to shape their piñatas to resemble fruits.

Essential campaigns for justice find voices here.

Not that we're serious all the time.

Neither is the neighborhood signage.

I've learned a lot while doing this lens self-training about the state of my near neighborhood in the post-pandemic (sure hope we're over the worst!). Will try to summarize some thoughts in the next few days.