Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day

My father, Roger K. Adams, was not a traveler. He didn't see much reason to leave home, since he had a home. 

But sometime in the 1970s he finally retired and Mother convinced him to get a passport which led to this image.

Thereupon they flew off on a trip to Ireland, from whence some of their people had immigrated. Mother was curious and usually interested to see new places. They met distant relatives and saw some tourist sites.

After they came home, I asked my father how he'd liked the trip. 

"They should put a roof over that country," he growled. Apparently it had rained every day. So much for traveling. Afterward Mother traveled with groups or with me.

Though he often presented as a grouch, actually he was a softie inside. He just felt the need to keep up appearances, as you can see in this picture.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Reading Mueller: Russians, Russians, and more Russians

Indivisible SF reads from the Mueller report in front of the San Francisco Federal Building, June 14, 2019.
Here's a second installment of my duty-filled reading of the Mueller report. The battalions of lawyers who have worked so hard to try to preserve the rule of law from a lawless administration keep saying "read it," so in tribute to them, I am reading it. Unlike them, I find it tedious. It seems inconclusive because Mueller apparently didn't have the time, latitude, or perhaps Department of Justice backing (even prior to installation of Trump's toady Bill Barr) to use the full force of law to make a covey of small time crooks come clean.

In the long, meaty, section "Russian Government Links To And Contacts With The Trump Campaign," the report examines, to the extent investigators were able to get facts, every known contact between the swarm of self-promoting low-lifes which composed both the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. Here's how Mueller introduces this material:
The Office identified multiple contacts—“links,” in the words of the Appointment Order—between Trump Campaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government. The Office investigated whether those contacts constituted a third avenue of attempted Russian interference with or influence on the 2016 presidential election. In particular, the investigation examined whether these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.
I had been following mainstream media reports of these "links" pretty closely; the investigation didn't turn up much that hadn't already leaked out. There's the episode of changing the Republican platform statement on Ukraine to a pro-Russian spin; the Trump Tower meeting with a mysterious Russian lawyer offering "dirt" on Hillary Clinton; former security official Mike Flynn's making nice to the Russian ambassador during the transition period; Jared Kushner's attempt to set up a channel for Trump to Putin through Russian communications facilities (the Russian ambassador knew better on that one); that longtime mercenary huckster Erik Prince trying to set up a meeting with a Russian oligarch in a resort in the Indian Ocean ...

It's baroque -- but mostly it's all small, stupid and sordid. These people had no idea how to get anything done at a nation-state, government to government, level. They were both oblivious to and hiding from any official channels for anything they did. Over and over, it's about trying to find someone, who might know someone else, who maybe had a relative, who'd once known a high official, who perhaps could make a connection ...

Mueller documents that these clowns' idea of research was Google and Wikipedia and they weren't particularly good at it. Michael Cohen, in his role fronting for Trump on Moscow real estate dangles, discussed getting to Putin with someone named Klokov, a guy he had misidentified via Google as an Olympic weight lifter. According to the report, Erik Prince proudly displayed proof he'd found the right Russian to approach, the head of that country's sovereign wealth fund:
Prince had on his cellphone a screenshot of Dmitriev’s Wikipedia page dated January 16, 2017, and Prince told the Office that he likely showed that image to Bannon.
Way to go, ace investigator!

Here's a specimen of how real estate hustler Felix Sater, who was looking for some payoff for helping Michael Cohen land a Moscow hotel deal, promoted his project:
Michael, Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, and Donald owns the republican nomination. And possibly beats Hillary and our boy is in. . . . We will manage this process better than anyone. You and I will get Donald and Vladimir on a stage together very shortly. That the game changer.
The people who worked for Trump -- and evidently Trump himself -- were and are the kind of men for whom this sort of second-rate mob posturing is the entirety of their ethical and intellectual world.

The only figure in the Mueller report who seems to have had any campaigning competence was Paul Manafort. Mueller reveals that he tried to rein in the clowns; when man-on-the-make George Papadopoulos was offering that Trump should try to meet Putin, Manafort wrote:
“Let[’]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that [Trump] is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the Campaign so as not to send any signal.”
After some back and forth, Manafort chose to go to prison (perhaps expecting a pardon) rather than tell what he knows. He's made a life of betting on corrupt oligarchs and he didn't change under Mueller's pressure. Mueller was unable to determine why Manafort turned campaign data over to a Russian identified as a spy. Nothing in the report moves me off my skepticism that campaign data mumbo-jumbo could have turned the election. Sure, the Russians may have achieved marginally better targeting thanks to this gift, but manifold accidents, not Manafort, enabled Trump's election.

The report did not answer what has long been my nagging question about the Trump/Russia connection: why did that old neo-Confederate Jeff Sessions go all squirrelly in his Senate confirmation hearing when asked about Russia? The man is a racist ideologue, but unlike the Trump faux mobster entourage, he knew how things actually get done in government. Mueller reports nothing untoward in Session's glancing contacts. Yet for some reason Sessions tried to hide them. Perhaps he feared that line of questioning would lead to what some other person was doing/had done? Maybe he had come to fear that Trump actually is a Russian asset, though still one who could enable his racial agenda? We may never know.

Yes -- I will read the rest of it, slowly.

Friday, June 14, 2019

A techno-optimist take on the disinformation explosion

One day I read that our overwhelming internet-obsessed culture is upending community ties or even undermining civilization. The next day I find myself in discussions of whether political campaigns' manipulation of our oh-so-fully-mined personal data -- think not only Facebook, but also Cambridge Analytica -- is sabotaging democracy. And then there are "fake news," and multiplying conspiracy theories, and "deep fakes," and inflammatory bots to worry about.

And then I remember a little history. In the 15th century, the strand of human civilization which Europeans imported to the Americas and from which this country springs underwent a technological disruption no less gargantuan than that we're experiencing driven by global cyber technology. The combination of the movable type printing press, access to ancient languages and learning imported from the Islamic east, and translation of the Bible into local languages broke up Christendom. The Protestant Reformation was literally revolutionary; over time all this made possible both capitalism and the envisioning of an individual possessed of "human rights". All these changes spread like wildfire across Europe, a continent then without borders as the nation-state had not yet been invented; that too was another product of the underlying technological revolution.

Quite a lot to follow on what seems a pretty simple invention, isn't it? And it's worth recalling that the civilization that sprang from it led also to a string of human atrocities -- most immediately the Thirty Years War which rivaled in barbarism the European wars of the 20th century, mercantile imperialism and the slave trade, and the horrors of unconstrained industrialization.

All of which I remember when I hear predictions of technological doom: the human animal has concocted, survived (barely), and thrived on technological invention before -- and probably will do the same in the global cyber-civilization.

I say to myself: we're clever beasts -- we'll figure it out.

All this is introduction to a fascinating article which describes how journalists, pooling tech-sourced information, have figured out how to make visible what bureaucrats and tyrants would prefer to hide:
Financial constraints have led many news organizations to downsize, leaving large gaps in foreign coverage and hollowing out investigative reporting. State and non-state actors that used to court foreign correspondents in the hopes of favorable coverage are now using the Internet to control their own narratives. Many see journalists as a nuisance or a threat. Social media chatter from foreign crises reaches audiences before it has been verified or contextualized. The pace and volume of this deluge have persuaded some newsrooms that sending journalists abroad is a fool’s errand.

With public trust in facts receding, competing narratives have come to dominate. News coverage has devolved, on one hand, into partisan hackery and, on the other, into a forced balance of “both-sides-ism.” Amid all this disarray, open-source journalism is restoring the primacy of facts and placing new emphasis on verification. It is also using digital media to cover parts of the world made inaccessible by war or distance.

... Part of open-source journalism’s new-found cachet comes from its methodological sophistication, but much of its credibility derives from its transparency. ... This is the closest that journalism has come to a scientific method: the transparency allows the process to be replicated, the underlying data to be examined, and the conclusions to be tested by others. This is worlds apart from the journalism of assertion that demands trust in expert authority.
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad explains exhaustively how the successes of these tech-enabled open source collaborations spawned the organization Bellingcat which in turn penetrated the fog of war to bring truthful news from suffering Syria and many other hidden stories.

Just maybe, the same disruptive technologies that so enable "fake news" can be used to reestablish the authority of facts. Certainly smart journalists are trying. Just maybe, we'll figure it out.

UPDATE:  Elliot Higgins whose work is described in this article evaluated U.S. evidentiary claims of Iranian attacks on Gulf of Oman shipping in the NY Times. You can follow his method yourself in the day's news.

Friday cat blogging

What magnificent whiskers you have.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Yes, it was a hate crime

Dr. Mohammad Abu-Salha, the father of the two murdered women:

We're not giving in; this is our country; we claim it.

The case of the angry white man who in 2015 killed three Muslim college students in Chapel Hill once again turned into a discussion of whether the murders were a "hate crime."

Craig Hicks pleaded guilty Wednesday to shooting three young Muslims in their Chapel Hill home, ending the 2015 case the district attorney called an act of “cold-blooded malice” driven by a gun fanatic’s hatred of his neighbors’ religion.

Hicks will serve a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole for killing his neighbors: Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Abu-Salha, 19.

Family members and lawyers connected to the case said Wednesday’s hearing corrects a 4-year-old narrative that mistakenly cast the murders as a parking dispute rather than a hate crime.

The News & Observer, Raleigh, NC

There are plenty of procedural and legal reasons, as well as possible bias reasons, why authorities don't want to call this or other offenses based in hate by the label "hate crime." The legal categories don't quite fit; Hicks would get the same sentence anyway. But a newly released tape from Deah Barakat's phone in which polite students tried to mollify their angry neighbor just before he shot them more than made the case. Here's how the prosecutor responded:
The "hate crime" label matters because it is society's way of acknowledging that racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and misogyny violate community values -- and no one should forget that. Calling a crime a "hate crime" sets a standard for law enforcement to be conscious that their job is to uphold and enforce inclusive justice for all.

It may seem just words, but naming hate crimes what they are is a significant way we announce that all of us us are in this together.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A rally in support of women needing asylum

One of the Trump administration's most gratuitous cruelties toward migrants from south of the border has been to change the rules so that suffering domestic violence is no longer grounds to flee to the United States. Just because your partner has tried to kill you is no reason to let you into this country these days.

One year ago, Jeff Sessions (then Attorney General) ruled in the case of Ms. A.B., a woman from El Salvador who bravely sought protection in the United States after enduring over a decade of extreme physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from her ex-husband in El Salvador.

In his ruling - known as “Matter of A-B-” - Sessions overturned a landmark legal precedent that had affirmed the right of domestic violence survivors to seek asylum, characterizing these harms as “private” matters that our government does not have a responsibility to address. He used Ms. A.B.’s case to undermine access to protection for countless asylum seekers fleeing gender-based violence and other harms.

The women of Mujeres Unidas y Activas gathered along with over 20 partner organizations outside the San Francisco federal courthouse on Tuesday.
We made noise ...

engaged passersby ...

and were glad to demonstrate, once again, they have friends.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Fear is deathly

This book is about "existential" terror experienced by white evangelicals -- fear of the unknown Other, of Black and Brown people, of LGBT people, of people who believe differently or don't believe at all, of uppity women (even white ones). These are some scared folks. And that isn't all.

Professor John Fea is an historian, teaching at Messiah College, a private Christian institution in Pennsylvania. After the November 2016 election of Donald Trump, whom he viewed as embodying the antithesis of the values he teaches, he experienced an uncomfortable incongruity.

Five days later -- the Lord's Day -- I took my seat in the sanctuary of the central Pennsylvania megachurch where I have worshipped for the last sixteen years. As I looked around at fellow worshippers, I could not help thinking that there was a strong possibility, if the reports and polls were correct, that eight out of ten people in that sanctuary -- my brothers and sisters in my community of faith -- had voted for the new president-elect.

Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump is his exploration of how a philandering, lying, racist could have become the white hope of his brother and sister evangelical Christians. It's a depressing catalogue.

His starting point is the story of how white evangelicals came to feel unmoored from their country during the Obama presidency. Since the 1960s, immigration by people of color from what seemed novel faith traditions coincided in time if not in location with an LGBT insurgency against gender certainties. (Aside from allusions to pro-choice women, Fea doesn't grasp the nasty nettle consisting of U.S. women's broad rejection of confining patriarchal roles for our lives -- an insurrection against traditions that was broader and deeper than anything we queers did to society.) Obama himself triggered a particular, longstanding fear.

Many evangelical voters also believed that Obama was a Muslim, and American evangelicals have always feared Muslims. Jonathan Edwards, the patron saint of many modern-day evangelicals, believed Islam was one of "two great kingdoms which the devil ... erected in opposition to the kingdom of Christ (Catholicism was the other one)".

He argues that white evangelicals went looking for a mean Daddy to protect them:

In a September 2016 lecture at Messiah College, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat told a packed audience that in a post-Christian age, evangelicals might find themselves relying more heavily on political strongmen to shield them from rushing secularization. ... Douthat suggested that evangelicals seem to need Trump, a man with no real Christian conviction to speak of, to protect them in the same way that Syrians need the brutal dictator Bashar al-Assad to protect them agains the threat of ISIL.

Fea's narrative history of evangelical fear of the unknown and uncaged, which reaches back to my Puritan ancestors, is the most interesting section of the book. He offers a sad enumeration of historical dead ends: witch trials in early Massachusetts, a politics of fighting the "Catholic Menace" via the Know-Nothing movement before the Civil War, adoption of the ideology of white superiority for fear of revolts by enslaved Africans, and on to their own revolt against modern scholarship and science that led to their champion William Jennings Bryan's humiliation in the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial. The resurgent Ku Klux Klan in the North in the 20th century was also very much an appendage of white evangelical/fundamentalist culture.

Fea goes on to outline how the men he calls the "court evangelicals" -- Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, James Dobson, Mike Huckabee, Robert Jeffress, etc. --- have weaponized evangelical fear in service of their own power and the Republican Party. All of this leaves Fea very sad. He concludes regretfully:

... it is possible to write an entire history of American evangelicalism as the story of Christians who have failed to overcome fear. Evangelicals have worried about the decline of Christian civilization from the moment they arrived on American shores in the seventeenth century. They have celebrated American values such as "freedom" and "liberty" while simultaneously building exclusive communities that do not tolerate dissent. ... White evangelical fear of newcomers -- those who might challenge the power and privilege that evangelicals have enjoyed in a nation of Protestants -- has been present in every era of American history.

There is a lot of soul-searching here, but I found something missing. Trump-applauding evangelicals are not only scared witless, they seem also willfully ignorant of the very considerable riches of modern knowledge, of history, and of science. I have a hard time believing that Jesus called his followers to be stupid. So does Fea.

The Bible teaches that Christians are to fear God -- and only God. ... The belief that the United States is a Christian nation is a form of idolatry.

He concludes he can only hold onto hope and continue to try to offer "history, not nostalgia."
Lest I be ignoring the "beam in my own eye" I should point out that this sort of blinding fear is still with us even in my own Church which the world considers the epitome of liberal Christendom. Thanks to the brave, tireless witness of several generations of LGBT folks and friends, the overwhelming stance of most Episcopalians is inclusive of all and at least verbally against manifold injustice's to God's people. But a dissenting bishop just offered this message to his diocese which seems a downright Fox News-inspired expression of Christian fear:

When you have a masked jihadist holding a knife to your throat demanding that you denounce your belief in Jesus Christ, you know your faith is under attack.  When the forces of culture and society encourage you to embrace a particular agenda all in the name of social justice or women’s rights, or political correctness we can sometimes compromise our faith and violate God’s Holy Word before we realize what has happened.  ... I am convinced that the day will come in our lifetime, when a person who stands up and speaks about sexual morality (particularly in regard to homosexuality or transgenderism) and quotes Leviticus or Romans – will be charged with a “hate crime” and either fined or imprisoned for doing so.  The current “Equality Act” just passed by the House and now before the U.S. Senate may very well create that scenario.  Are you prepared to go to jail for the Gospel’s sake?  What is happening in other parts of the world is at our doorstep.

Evangelicals aren't the only Christians trapped in their terrors.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Are we ready for the 16-year old vote?

Some teenagers are very ready and they took their case to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. The members of the school board listened and knew what was good for them: they voted to move ahead with researching whether they could expand eligibility to vote in school district elections to 16 and 17 year olds.

That's how it starts ... organizing for the unimaginable, which becomes, after struggle, commonplace. Way to go!

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Black people in the city

This film, now playing, is San Francisco in its foggy vagaries, absurd curiosities, and wrenching beauty. It's true fiction from and about the city's shrinking Black population. See it if you have a chance. I cried and you might too. The movie will run for awhile here I'm sure, but will it play elsewhere?
The story of African American displacement in San Francisco has clear through-lines. Southern Black people migrated to the Bay to work in war industries in the 1940s from the South, Louisiana and Texas prominently. Many more settled in the East Bay than here, but a community scraped out a foothold. Redlining confined Black residents to decaying "inner city" enclaves. In these neighborhoods, vibrant Black churches, businesses, and culture thrived, centered especially in the Fillmore District. This cluster was decimated by "urban renewal" -- aka "Negro removal" in the 1950s and 60s. The Black population as a proportion of all residents peaked at 13 percent in 1970 and is now down to under five percent, as residents have been forced out by rising housing prices and a declining market for a less-educated labor force. The closest thing we have to a Black neighborhood is bits of the Bayview, once home of the shipyards and now poisoned by industry's toxic droppings. These days, expensive condos built where once San Francisco sited its waste dump are raising prices even in this last holdout of African Americans.

It's a crazy, ugly picture -- too much tech cash is chasing too little land and too little living space on a naturally gorgeous peninsula. No wonder people want to live here, but "here" is a rapidly changing, violently discriminatory, reality.

People who read this blog may know that I am also Walking San Francisco's 596 precincts, trudging both sides of every street and posting a smattering of snap shots from each small electoral area. I began in late 2012 and expect to finish by the end of 2021; I've completed 430/596 today. The photos are more focused on homeowner idiosyncrasies and architecture than on people, but I've met and photographed hundreds of San Franciscans.

And recently I've realized I'm experiencing what feels like an anomaly. I know well the historical description of Black displacement I've recited above. Yet in nearly every little electoral area I explore, I seem to see at least one Black person. Then I got a glimmer. Black people "stick out" because none of these places (except by the rock outcroppings under the projects in the movie; I've walked there) are Black communities. The remaining Black people in this city live "mixed in" among other San Franciscans.

The pervasive feeling of loss in this city is not just, or even primarily, an individual agony; it is communal. Feeling safe and at-home as an individual is a demographic privilege that accompanies knowing one has, somewhere, a community home-place. Whites enjoy it in this city most everywhere; some people of some Asian origins have it in some parts of the city; LGBT people of diverse "races" have it in some areas; Latinx people have it in shrinking locales and must live in fear of losing it; Black people can almost no longer claim it at all. Such is San Francisco today.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Saturday scenery: birds of the air

Here's flight of brown pelicans over San Francisco's Ocean Beach.

But they are not the only soaring creatures up there.

They were having a high old time!

Sure looked like these "birds" were enjoying the thermal winds.

Friday, June 07, 2019

About those war criminals

Erudite Partner is at it again, reminding us that there are -- or ought to be -- ethical and legal limits, even in war. And its not just groundlevel grunts who violate ...

Trump’s Plan to Pardon War Criminals is Outrageous, but the Higher-Ups were Never even Charged.

Read all about it!

Friday cat blogging

I watch them; they watch me, while Walking San Francisco.

Some seem more anxious about the passerby than others.
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