Saturday, August 24, 2019

Saturday scenes: the coons are back in Golden Gate Park

The animal looked a bit like that rock, but I noticed movement as I ran toward him.

He noticed me as I approached.

As I rounded a curve, I saw there were more. Perhaps a family? Perhaps the first raccoon was a sentry?

The galumphing runner signaled time to beat it out of sight.

Some made for cover under the bridge while others knew they could easily outrun me.

I haven't seen this many raccoons in the park for awhile. Some years ago I encountered a group near this same spot on the trail around Chain of Lakes Drive. I later read that Animal Control had captured that batch; apparently they are hell on pet dogs. As far as I'm concerned, I'd say leave them be.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Friday cat blogging

There are only so many hideaways in a smallish house -- but Morty found a new one. Once he got through posing, he climbed on my lap where he now is trying to create typos by head-butting my hands.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Does it really require closing a mountain peak to monitor storms and rainfall?

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission thinks so. I run on this rocky outcropping -- Montara Mountain which sits between Pacifica and Half Moon Bay -- as often as once a week. It's rugged and often nearly empty of recreational users. But city bureaucrats have decided they have to close the top -- because, well, I guess the decaying communication towers weren't enough unsightly litter. Seriously now, must they close off yet more wild land that is only lighted used?
This is an agency with an imperial attitude about the watersheds it "protects." For decades, it has made the ridgeline fire road west of Crystal Springs Reservoir off limits. Meanwhile San Mateo County has no qualms about its heavily used Sawyer Camp Trail on the east side where a determined polluter could probably toss a stone into the water. But hey, SFPUC closes its side to all but its own employees, some of whom get to live in this lovely wild area. (I went on a legal, supervised hike there once during which the water guys tracked us in a pickup.)

Please sign this petition asking the SFPUC to find other options than closing off the North Peak of the mountain.

Extending that Republican Rx for sickness: "just die"

If I didn't have some (weak) confidence that the Times does elementary fact checking, I'd find this unbelievable. But it's widely reported.

Charles Blow digs into how deliberate cruelty makes Trump a "folk hero" for many (most?) Republicans.

A Lust for Punishment
... Trump’s own punitive spirit aligns with and gives voice and muscle to American conservatives’ long simmering punitive lust. And this insatiable desire to inflict pain has particular targets: women (specifically feminists), racial minorities, people who are L.G.B.T.Q. and religious minorities in this country. In short, the punishments are directed at anyone who isn’t part of, or supportive of, the white supremacist patriarchy.

... The whole discussion of abortion and those who oppose a woman’s right to choose this legal and legitimate medical procedure is in part rooted in punishment. The woman was a reckless custodian of her body and dared to have sex, unprotected, at a time when she wasn’t prepared to be a mother or with a man she didn’t want to be her child’s father. For shame. She should be made to complete the pregnancy, give birth to the child and raise it. This is her punishment for sex.

... In discussions about the disproportionate rates of black male incarceration or black men gunned down by the police, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read or heard conservatives say that these black males’ own actions courted the punishment, that they got what they deserved.

This has ever been the case: the flaying of black flesh as punishment for some infraction, perceived or real, from the lash and hounds of slavery to the lynchings that surged after the Civil War, from state execution when the killing moved indoors to our current extrajudicial killings by the police in which the morbid act moves back outside. ...

Read it all.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Does this medal remind you of anything?

Soldiers who Trump has sent to guard the Mexican border against the "invasion" lodged in his feral imagination will earn a medal that looks like this.
As Erudite Partner remarked: "Repulsive."

The Armed Forces Service Medal was created by President Bill Clinton in 1996 through an executive order. The award ... was previously given to troops who operated along the border under President George W. Bush. It has also been awarded to troops who have deployed to Bosnia, Haiti and West Africa on humanitarian or peacekeeping missions.

So there is a precedent. Sort of. Trump treats the U.S. Armed Forces like his personal toy soldiers.

U.S. Air Force graphic by Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The "stop the world, I want to get off" crowd

Since November 2016 when the Trump election was enabled by votes from 81 percent of white evangelical Christians, I've noodled away at understanding what drives these people. The simple explanation -- these are terrified white people grasping at the Making America White Again straw despite its repugnance -- is both irrefutable and yet feels incomplete. John Fea helped me appreciate how terrified these people are in a culture they can't seem to grasp, much less control and constrain. Fear overrides both sense and common decency.

Major media are taking another run at understanding white evangelical Christians. Washington Post writer Elizabeth Bruenig braved the wilds of north Texas from which she sprang last spring during Holy Week, reporting sensitively on the folks she'd left behind. Amid her compassion, there were hints of something chilling. She quotes "Lydia Bean, 38, a researcher who taught at Baylor University":

“Basically, it’s like a fortress mentality, where it’s like — the best we can do is lock up the gates and just pour boiling oil over the gates at the libs,” ...“I really think one of the things that’s changed since I did my fieldwork at the very end of the Bush administration is a rejection of politics in general as a means to advance the common good, even in a conservative vein.” In that case, politics “becomes a bloodsport, where you’re punishing and striking back at people you don’t like” without much hope of changing anything. For that kind of “hopeless cynicism” regarding politics — walls up, temporary provisions, with just enough strength and zeal left to periodically foil one’s enemies — Trump is an ideal leader.

That is, terror at imagined loss can morph into nihilism. A few can become the El Paso terrorist. Far more simply cheer on Trump from within imagined fortress walls that ratify their purity:

By voting for Trump — even over more identifiably Christian candidates — evangelicals seem to have found a way to outsource their fears and instead reserve a strictly spiritual space for themselves inside politics without placing evangelical politicians themselves in power. In that sense, they can be both active political agents and a semi-cloistered religious minority, both of the world and removed from it, advancing their values while retreating to their own societies.

Conservative white evangelical internet troll Ben Howe explained his own kind less sympathetically to Emma Green:

...Trump’s appeal is not judges. It’s not policies. It’s that he’s a shit-talker and a fighter and tells it like it is. That’s what they like. They love the meanest parts of him.

Okay, I get it. White evangelicals are just scared witless by losing racial and cultural hegemony; they are using Trump to defend their bunker.
But I'm left with the question: how did white evangelical Christianity become the bastion of ignorance that this strain among us serves as today? If you are accustomed to using your wits to comprehend your surroundings, you are a lot less likely to be scared witless. And it wasn't always this way. It was some pretty rock-ribbed white Protestants who founded the country's early intellectual and scientific institutions -- Harvard, Princeton, even the first public schools.

And for all that, by the early 20th century, too many (most?) white evangelicals experienced basic science, especially in the form of evolutionary theory, as incompatible with their most cherished beliefs. Catholic and Protestant Christians made peace with science; evangelicals did not. It's awfully hard to live at peace with modernity -- with a civilization that can put a human on the moon, blow up the planet, and is creating climate chaos -- without living in a world informed by science.

A Pew Social Trends survey concludes that the same divide that gave us the blind partisanship which led to Trump also is leaching into attitudes toward education. By and large we think we need it -- but we are becoming dubious:

Americans see value in higher education – whether they graduated from college or not. ... Even so, there is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction – even suspicion – among the public about the role colleges play in society ...

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that only half of American adults think colleges and universities are having a positive effect on the way things are going in the country these days. About four-in-ten (38%) say they are having a negative impact – up from 26% in 2012.

And that divide has a partisan cast:
Healing for this country must include helping people -- especially white evangelical Christians -- both think and feel that knowledge of the world is a good; can we do that?

Monday, August 19, 2019

When the well runs dry: cooperation yields better result than competition

This map offered today by the Washington Post provides a scary picture of the many areas of the United States where climate chaos and human density are putting strain on water resources, especially in southwestern states. Are we going to end up like Cape Town, South Africa, where increasing shortages almost led to a complete municipal water shut off in a modern city? The story is worth reading.

But there's another story worth contemplating:

The climate-inspired detente on the Colorado
For the first time in history, low water levels on the Colorado River have forced Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico to cut back the amount of water they use. ... “It is a new era of limits,” said Kevin Moran, who directs the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River efforts.

... But these water-use reductions are also an example of people binding themselves to rules to deal with scarce resources, rather than going to court, or war. The cutbacks come from an agreement hammered out by the Southwestern states and Mexico to impose limits on themselves.

“It’s not necessarily well known or talked about, but this collaboration between the states and Mexico is one of the most successful cross-border water management stories in the world,” Moran said.

Over the long course of history, the various parties have fought each other over water, but found that cooperation simply works better, Moran said. ...

Read all about it.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Got the grumps

What could be more banally representative of our hyper-connected lives than what I spent yesterday doing ... repairing the havoc caused by a hacked credit card? This grumpy gargoyle seems to feel rather as I felt while changing my settings online on a multitude of websites.

This is not the fault of the credit card company. They caught the hack before any serious damage was done and promptly issued a replacement.

But it was a lot of labor. Every regular vendor I use -- health insurance, internet access, e-commerce, a gym, some charities -- had to be changed. And every one of them had a different procedure and a differently organized web site where I could accomplish this. The process was a kind of tutorial in web design, mostly bad.

Such is convenience.

Blogging will resume when I recover.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Saturday scenery: Woodstock

It's been 50 years since the iconic counter cultural gathering.

It's certainly a lovely setting.

In 1969, 400,000 people crowded into this field. And yes, then it rained.

For someone, the memory is so happy they've put the name of the property owner on their license plate. Perhaps part of the family?

No, I wasn't there. But I keep running across people in my circles who were -- guess that says something I find endearing about my friends. I took these shots in 2014 when one of the ones who had been there showed us the site.

Friday, August 16, 2019

U.S. actions have Central American consequences

Amilcar Perez Lopez traveled to San Francisco to work for his family's well-being; the boy from Guatemala kept his head down and was a "good worker" according to those who knew him. He found a neighborhood where there were many others like him; in the photo, the Mission community turned out to protest impunity for the SFPD officers who shot him in the back in 2015.

Erudite Partner argues that the current surge of migration from Central America that Donald Trump is using to stir up racist fears of "invasion" has been building for decades. In fragile states, corruption, and climate chaos have pushed people onto a terrible road."The US has driven Central Americans to flee," she explains:

There is indeed a real crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border. Hundreds of thousands of people like Amílcar are arriving there seeking refuge from dangers that were, to a significant degree, created by and are now being intensified by the United States. But Donald Trump would rather demonize desperate people than deploy the resources needed to attend to their claims in a timely way — or in any way at all.

It's time to recognize that the American way of life — our cars and comforts, our shrimp and coffee, our ignorance about our government's actions in our regional "backyard" — has created this crisis. It should be (but in the age of Trump won't be) our responsibility to solve it. ...

We broke these countries, we continue to break them, and we don't understand we own this.

Friday cat blogging

The unaccustomed hot weather has us pulling curtains and opening windows strategically. We don't actually have to worry about Morty trying to escape. He doesn't like heat and he's a bit of a fraidy cat.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Chronicler of power

Is Robert A. Caro a biographer? Perhaps a political reporter? A social historian? An investigative journalist? All of the above? That seems right. I know of no other writer of contemporary history whose works present such a broad yet still human-scale portrait of his subjects' lives and surrounding times.

In this little book -- Working -- he shares with his readers something of how he does whatever it is he has been doing in writing The Power Broker about New York titan Robert Moses and the still unfinished five (?) volume The Years of Lyndon Johnson. In particular Caro shares nuggets about some of the most powerful passages in those volumes. Even if you haven't read about how Moses devastated the South Bronx community of Tremont Street or how the women of the Texas Hill Country survived in Lyndon Johnson's youth, you get a manageable taste here. The book is a delight.

And what we learn of Caro's process certainly seems in harmony with his product. He researches obsessively, immerses himself in his subject's places and artifacts, researches some more, interviews available witnesses repeatedly -- and finally writes draft after draft, long hand. He works doggedly and apparently happily. He knows that his readers now wonder whether he'll live to finish his decades long Johnson opus; what's he doing offering this distraction from the main work?

I have so many thoughts about writing, so many anecdotes about research, that I would like to preserve for anyone interested enough to read them. I decided that, just in case, I'd put some of them down on paper now. ...

He claims he's actually a fast writer, a newspaper re-write man on a lifelong detour. But investigative reporting taught him to "turn every page" -- to follow every lead as far as it may lead him. He's a almost precious about this.

It's the research that takes the time -- the research and whatever it is in myself that makes the research take so long, so very much longer than I had planned. Whatever it is that makes me do research the way I do, it's not something I'm proud of, and it's not something for which I can take credit -- or the blame.

Ultimately, Caro's subject is "an examination of the essential nature -- the most fundamental realities -- of political power." Taking Robert Moses as his subject, he refined what that meant:

I had set out to write about political power by writing about one man, keeping the focus, within the context of his times, on him. I now came to believe that the focus should be widened, to show not just the life of the wielder of power but the lives on whom, and for whom, it was wielded; not to show those lives in the same detail, of course, but in sufficient detail to enable the reader to empathize with the consequences of power -- the consequences of government, really -- on the lives of its citizens, for good and for ill. To really show political power, you had to show the effect of power on the powerless, and show it fully enough so the reader could feel it.

Having explored an urban and state wielder of power, he looked to the national level. He wanted to describe some one who had done ""something that no one had done before." Johnson, among myriad accomplishments and failings, fit that bill:

For a hundred years before Lyndon Johnson, since the halcyon era of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, no one had been able to make the Senate work -- and in the fifty-nine years since Lyndon Johnson left the Senate, no one's been able to make the Senate work. But he made it work.

His volume on Johnson's Senate tenure remains an essential text on that impediment to the popular will for all the changes in style and content of US politics since the 1950s.

Speaking of changes, Caro's description of his working relationship with his wife and partner Ina reads quaint and, perhaps, under-considerate in 2019. He is unstinting in his praise of her contributions -- her contributions to what he nonetheless considers his great project. They worked together in the LBJ library, digging through the impossible volume of records. But he had another idea:

Working in the Reading Room with me would be Ina, in whose thoroughness and perceptivity in doing research I had learned to trust. ...

... I said to Ina, "I'm not understanding these people and therefore I'm not understanding Lyndon Johnson. We're going to move to the Hill Country and live there." Ina said, "Why can't you do a biography of Napoleon?"

But Ina is Ina: loyal and true. She said, as she always says: "Sure." We rented a house on the edge of the Hill Country, where we were to live for most of the next three years."

I can't help but wonder if Ina had more to say here, but I suppose we'll never know.

For all that, Robert A. Caro is a treasure of truths about power. Studying these great and horrible men of power, he reflects on what redeems the squalid squabbling of government, not always by the people:

There is evil and injustice that can be caused by political power, but there is also great good. It seems to be that people have forgotten this. They've forgotten, for example what Franklin Roosevelt did: how he transformed people's lives. How he gave hope to people. Now people talk in vague terms about government programs and infrastructure, but they've forgotten the women of the Hill Country and how electricity changed their lives. ... We certainly see how government can work to your detriment today, but people have forgotten what government can do for you. They've forgotten the potential of government, the power of government, to transform people's lives for the better.

I read this as an audiobook and strongly recommend that medium. Caro reads it himself.
Previous blog posts here about Robert A. Caro's books:
The Power Broker:
He got things done

Lyndon Johnson:
The hardness of the women's lives
A politician with no redeeming features
Lyndon Johnson, the Senate, and the people
A Lyndon Johnson tease
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