Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Coronavirus tidbits

The line is back at 24th St. and Capp in the Mission. "Get tested here. Get your vaccine here." It looks as if the Delta virus surge and the return of indoor masks have captured a lot of people's attention.

Unidos en Salud is on the job -- and taking advantage of the chance to offer more of the sort of health care that's inaccessible to so many in the Mission. There's testing here for diabetes and HIV as well as COVID.

• • •

People in San Francisco seem to be taking the renewed indoor mask mandate pretty well. The Chron's headline on its human interest story reads 'How hard is it to get a shot?' For weary San Franciscans, the masks are back.

At the Academy of Sciences, visitors were a mix of resigned and resentful of the unvaccinated.

“It’s ironic you have to wear one in a scientific building,” said Melissa Olcomendy, a preschool teacher, adding that it was discouraging that so many of her fellow homo sapiens had rejected the science and failed to roll up their sleeves for a shot.

“It’s insane,” she said. “But if we have to wear masks again to keep everyone safe, that’s what we have to do.”

“It does feel like we're being re-traumatized,” said Jessica Whitelock of San Francisco, who was taking in the giant tropical fish tank with her son, Caleb, 10. “Masks are the new normal.”

• • •

Meanwhile at the Bulwark, Charlie Sykes highlights a poll that asked who people in this country blame for the Delta COVID-19 surge, divided by vaccination status.

Click to enlarge.

Vaccinated respondents blame the unvaccinated. The unvaccinated are sure the culprits are foreigners -- and the mainstream media! Yikes!

He points out that Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis -- who has demeaned vaccination and forbidden cities to enact mask mandates -- is trying to build a presidential campaign on COVID denial. Says Sikes:

Anyone who thinks that failure to manage COVID could hurt a Republican with political aspirations hasn’t been paying attention. If anything, the opposite is true. 
That's a terrifying reality.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Global Babel

A leisurely morning reading the news (scary as usual) led me to this. It contains a lot to ponder.

Like what's Lahnda and who speaks it? Fortunately, Wikipedia provides: "Lahnda, also known as Lahndi or Western Punjabi, is a group of north-western Indo-Aryan language varieties spoken in parts of Pakistan and India." So three South Asian-continent languages are among the top 10 numbers of first language speakers -- aggregating to 688.

It's always surprising to look around the world and see how very many people speak English at home. The former British empire was a hell of thing -- as has been the U.S. version. Many linguists predict that the future evolution of English will emerge from the South Asian region.

English and Spanish, which use simple alphabets, outperform symbol-based languages like Chinese and Japanese on computers -- an advantage that might be eroded by greater computing power. But there's no question that today English remains the language of global commerce. 

Maybe if more of us were habitually fluent in more than one language, this all might shake out differently. 

• • •

These meandering reflections came about because I chased down the website of a Sacramento teacher and Ed Week columnist, Larry Ferlazzo, who has published a really interesting opinion piece about teaching K-12 in the coming semi-post-pandemic year. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Be careful out there ... #GetVaccinated

I think we can believe these stats and conclusions from Supervisor Matt Haney:

In San Francisco, 16 people who are fully vaccinated have been hospitalized and none have died.

This is out of the over 3000 who have been hospitalized overall, meaning vaccinated people are about .5% of those hospitalized.  
There are absolutely breakthrough cases, and everyone, including vaccinated people have to be careful and vigilant.

But vaccines work. They protect against the virus, and offer very strong protection against severe cases.

Get vaccinated and encourage others to do the same.

This is in a city where over 75% of adults are fully vaccinated. So to have such an under representation of people who are vaccinated among those who are hospitalized is especially notable.

We have it in our power to make it so there are hardly any residents remaining who would become seriously ill if infected by the coronavirus. We're that close. Protecting our neighbors is something we can do together.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Does U.S. democracy need our tired old Democratic and Republican parties? Part three.

This post is about what more formal writers call "contestation of language" and what most of us call the labels we use to name ourselves and our friends.

Anyone who is paying any attention over time in this hyper-changeable society knows that people coming into their power -- into self-affirmation and social recognition -- shed old labels and evolve new ones. My own kind have, in my lifetime, gone from "pervert" to "dyke" to "woman identified woman" to "lesbian" to "gender queer" to ??? And compared to even more stigmatized racial and sexual identities, that evolution, though hard fought, has been relatively peaceful for many of us. 

The words -- the labels -- matter. They have power. They change with changing power relations.

And so it seems worth highlighting an observation from the thoughtful journalist Josh Marshall about how this works in and through the Democratic Party.

... the contestation of language, efforts to politicize and transform it in order to embed new assumptions within it is recurring dynamic in our culture and society. The effects of it often seem commonsensical, obvious, unobjectionable … at the remove of a few decades. In other words, once it’s succeeded. But it doesn’t look that way at the leading edge of it, when we are in the midst of it. 
... It is a real challenge for the political party which is inevitably the political vehicle for progressive social change in this country, the Democratic party. There is a strong in-group dynamic, often amplified through social media, which excludes many people who struggle to keep up with it. It is at its worst when it is not a path to embody and communicate values but a stumbling block – sometimes an intentional one – for those who may embrace or at least be open to those values but are not versed on a code devised for them by others.
The evolving Democratic Party will always come with some grumps complaining that the latest verbal innovations are going to alienate someone, like the smart but curmudgeonly John Judis:
Anything that suggests that there is no such thing as men and women, e.g. that a woman who has a baby is a "birthing person." All that kind of stuff that is comprehensible in a few zip codes, but seems totally nuts and offensive to most Americans, including most people who vote for Democrats.
The cautious linguist John McWhorter (not, I think, a Democrat) lends his expertise to fighting back to against what he considers absurd inventions.
Latinx may solve a problem, but it’s not a problem that people who are not academics or activists seem to find as urgent as they do. Now as always, imposing change on language is wickedly difficult from above, even change with wisdom in it.
But along with society, the changes keep coming. And it is through the broad coalition that is the Democratic Party that these verbal changes push from the margins to the center. "Arena of linguist change" may seem a strange role for a messy, grubby political party, but that's how we roll.

Political parties:

Professonalism meets passions. Part one.

The challenges of changes. Part two.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Does U.S. democracy need our tired old Democratic and Republican parties? Part two.

Let's come at the question of whether we need political parties through another point of view.

Valentina Lares is a Venezuelan journalist and managing editor of, an investigative journalism site. Somewhat to her own amazement, she mourns what has become of formerly potent political parties all over the world.

The first time I voted, a little more than 20 years ago, my options were straightforward: I could vote for a conservative politician put forward by a conservative party, or I could vote for a liberal candidate put forward by a liberal party. I didn’t much like either of them, but each was proposing a recognizable path for my country, Venezuela, to follow.

 ... Let’s be clear: It’s not that anyone really liked those old parties, with their clubbiness and their corruption. It’s just that we knew who they were. We knew where their ideas came from, we knew from what clay their ideas had been molded and whose interests they championed. Your identity folded neatly into your vote: If you were a union member, you voted for the Social Democrats; if you went to church, you voted for the Christian Democrats. Simple.

But all over the world, she sees splintering and allegiance to particular individual persons replacing those old party identities.
... The multiplication of parties has been accompanied by widespread doctrinal hollowing. In Latin America, for instance, we’re no longer liberals or conservatives, radicals or centrists. We are chavistas, uribistas, corre√≠stas, bolsonaristas, fujimoristas, kirchneristas. What ideas do they represent, what vision do they champion beyond support for a given person? It’s often hard to tell. 
Even the oldest, most established democracies are not immune from all this: in the U.S. the GOP has morphed into a simple vehicle for Trumpism. ... Where parties can’t serve as a locus for traditional, big-tent identities, politics dissolves into a squabble between personalities.
Her prescription for this political chaos:
The challenge is to leave room for new political groupings, while avoiding a free-for-all. To put forward a comprehensive vision of a better future, alongside a reasonable way to make it a reality. We have a right to know where they propose to take our countries, and how. It’s time we demand that those who aspire to lead us take that responsibility seriously.
For all the anxiety of the current moment -- and there is plenty to worry about with so many GOPers applauding the January 6 coup attempt -- I'm watching an emerging generation of people using the Democratic Party label fill that label with as much plausible substance as it's had in my life time. Yes, there's the Biden administration's ambitious climate and social welfare initiatives and that's encouraging.  But, more, there are also the likes of India Walton, the socialist nurse who won the Democratic nomination for mayor of Buffalo. She doesn't love the Democratic Party, but she might redeem it.  

If Walton is the future of the Democrats, I agree with Michelle Goldberg, we've got a chance:

“The challenge of the left is that we use our jargony activist language and don’t take time to fully explain what we mean to those who may not be as ‘woke’ as we are,” [Walton] told me.

... Instead of “defund,” she said, “we say we’re going to reallocate funds. We’re going to fully fund community centers. We’re going to make the investments that naturally reduce crime, such as investments in education, infrastructure, living-wage jobs. Nothing stops crime better than a person who’s gainfully employed. If you have to go to work, you don’t have time to be out in the streets with all these shenanigans.” 
... In some ways, Walton epitomizes the winning formula for left-wing candidates. Today’s left is basically a coalition between well-educated liberal professionals and working-class people of color. Often those best able to unite these groups are people of color with radical ideals and working-class ties. Look at the leftists who’ve been elected to Congress in recent years: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender. Jamaal Bowman was a principal in the Bronx. Cori Bush, like Walton, was a nurse.
An old line Democrat, the incumbent Buffalo mayor, is trying to stop Walton in November through a write-in campaign. Her kind of Democrat wasn't supposed to exist. We'll see if money and inertia can stop her.

Folks like Walton make a Democratic Party I can relate to, more than at any time in my life. I'm surprised, but that's a happy thought in a scary landscape. 

More on Walton here. 

Part one of this series on political parties here.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Does U.S. democracy need our tired old Democratic and Republican parties? Part one.

Fareed Zakaria is Mr. Olympian Cosmopolitan Globalist on CNN. In an interview with Sean Illing, he's optimistic about liberal democracy around the world. That's not nothing, as his country of origin, India, is one of the places where he observes that the survival of democracy seems most precarious. But despite Trump's attempted insurrection on January 6 and continuing Big Lie, he's optimistic about the resilience of the U.S. system. Despite lapsing into some absurd false equivalence between the Dems and GOPers, he makes an interesting argument about our political parties:

The reason parties have been so central to the preservation of liberal democracy is that they channel public passions, public emotion, public anger, public joy, into programs and policies that are compatible with a liberal democratic framework. At their best, that’s what parties do. And parties act as gatekeepers. They rule out the most extreme fringes on both sides. 
What has happened in America, ever since the onset of the primaries in the 1960s, is we have eviscerated the political parties and empowered all kinds of non-party actors — from the candidates themselves to the rich — through fundraising processes. And the effect of that has been that the parties have gotten hollowed out. ... [He concedes with a a little prompting that] this is particularly true of the Republican Party. So the party caves to Trump because they’re all worried about losing the next primary, about losing the funding that comes at those early stages, which all tends to come from the most passionate and the most committed. ...
I think Zakaria's observation about how primaries function has a lot of truth to it -- but I think the degeneration of the parties includes something more which may be particularly visible here in California: much of politics is just about  keeping a big campaign industry afloat rather than about public opinions or public policies. The political universe supports a swarm of media manipulators, data operatives, pollsters, dirty tricksters, and aspiring strategic consultants, most of whom are only vaguely ideological, though most carry a nominal party identification. These people need jobs. At least some of the time, they necessarily work on campaigns which are more about a paycheck than a passion. 

And, though slightly differently, the same goes for many politicians. They too adopt a party label. A few run for public office because they are willing to devote themselves to advancing particular policy objectives -- think Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. It's possible that just about all aspiring pols begin with big ideas they hope to implement. But most of them, successful or not, end up mediocre practitioners of the day to day business of government. They can't all be superstars. Whereupon, for offices holders as well the campaign industrial complex, their business becomes winning and retaining their (elected) jobs.

And more than the parties, it's these professional pols who raise the money that keeps the campaign industry going. Most are mediocre, but the survivors are good at fundraising. There's an axiom in philanthropic fundraising that donors -- including, even especially, foundations -- don't really give money to programs, they give to people, individuals who have established relationships and trust. This is also true of politicians. Politicians, whatever their programmatic aims, thrive on building relationships with donors.

So -- though our political parties stand, in a dilute way, for some public policies and some particular public passions, they simply aren't where the money that keeps the political business going is located. The money goes to individual pols. In fact, the parties are dependent on their superstars to fill their coffers. And their superstars can hold the party apparatus captive because they are the rainmakers for the whole enterprise. In some states and nationally, the party apparatus is a kind of facade for the individual rain makers.

No wonder a Trump can sweep in and take over one of our two big parties. There was never as much there there in the Republican Party as it imagined. Conservative ideology turned out to be mask, a weak signifier with not much content. This is particularly a vulnerability of a small tent enterprise, a party whose coalition is limited and shrinking.

But since Trump doesn't share cash -- or anything -- it could also kill off the Republican Party over time. The country has plenty of right wing nuts, small and large donors, but will they shell out for both the Party and the Donald? That's one of the questions the Trump-GOP engulfment poses. 

Meanwhile, turning up fascist engagement in the base seems the only recourse left for mediocre politicians who have long since given up any ambition for anything but holding on to power.

Friday cat blogging

At this angle, Janeway's nose freckle stands out. There's an inexhaustible reservoir of want in those eyes. What does she want?

Thursday, July 29, 2021

We don't always have to listen to a braying crowd

Just when it seems the crazies and cranks have taken over, data emerges to suggest the nuttiness is actually only a few loud mouths. Take a look at this poll about the teaching of U.S. history:

Click to enlarge.

This is just one poll, though the 1000 registered voters is in the normal range for a well done national survey sample. 

And it turns out that huge majorities -- over 85 percent of us -- want the Civil War, slavery, and the Civil Rights movement taught in schools. Education about white mob violence and Jim Crow law is a little less popular, down in the mid-60 percent range. But mostly, we know we have to go there.

Overwhelmingly, citizens, and particularly parents, do want an unvarnished U.S. history taught in schools. Don't let Tucker Carlson tell you differently.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Uncovering the vile lie

Congressman Bennie Thompson has represented Mississippi's Second Congressional District since 1993. That long tenure has qualified him to lead the House Committee on Homeland Security. And so now, he presides over the inquiry into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. 

In most of the media -- appropriately -- the focus of reporting from yesterday has been on the dramatic testimony of the four officers who barely survived fighting off attacking right wing thugs. 

But watching the proceedings, I was struck by part of Thompson's opening statement. He screened a montage of video from the insurrection, concluding with a shouted threat from one of the invading rioters. Then Thompson offered this:

He'll be back, he warns us. It's just chilling.

I thank God that our democracy—and our Republic—withstood the assault. But that man's warning reminds us that this threat hasn't gone away. It looms over our democracy like a dark cloud.

Some people are trying to deny what happened. To whitewash it. To turn the insurrectionists into martyrs. But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on January 6th. The hangman's gallows sitting out there on our National Mall. The flag of that first failed and disgraced rebellion against our union, being paraded through the Capitol. The hatred. The bigotry. The violence.

And all of it: for a vile, vile lie. Let's be clear. The rioters who tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie. As Chairman of this Committee, I will not give that lie any fertile ground. ...

In this moment of national possibility, when we're moving beyond the pandemic and perhaps into some more active, constructive, government than in the last 40 years, I don't want to dwell on backlash, to fixate on our angry dead-enders who lash out against the multi-racial democracy we can glimpse distantly. Prosecutions for proven thuggery are grinding on. But realizing our national hope demands attention to this investigation, to uncovering the full story of the attempted coup against the election.

Thanks, Chairman Thompson.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Going to the dogs

Feeling a little overwhelmed today, so I'll just share a few dogs I've met recently.

I'm told that dog adoptions soared during the lockdown time. Nice to see these getting some fresh air and doing doggie things.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Theft of democracy

With the House of Representative inquiry into the January 6 assault on the U.S. capitol set to begin tomorrow, it would be worth listening again to the observations of the judge who sentenced the first of some 500+ persons charged for actions that day. 

U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss explained to Paul Hodgkins why he was being given an 8 month sentence for pleading to one felony count of obstructing an official proceeding:  

Hodgkins was one of a small handful of Capitol rioters who made it into the Senate chamber during the attack, appearing with a Trump flag inside the chamber not long after lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence had fled the room.

“The symbolism of that act is unmistakable,” Moss said. “He was staking a claim on the floor of the United States Senate not with an American flag, but with a flag declaring his loyalty to a single individual over the nation.”

“In that act, he captured the theft of democracy that we all witnessed that day,” the judge added.

 ... “The attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, in which Mr. Hodgkins actively participated, at the very least tarnished that happy history,” Moss said.

... "It makes us question whether our democracy is less secure than what we previously believed just seven months ago.”

Great to see that Reps. Jamie Raskin and Adam Schiff are on the special investigatory committee. They proved their ability to grasp the enormity of Trumpian offenses during the two impeachment proceedings. There's no doubt they'll be obstructed by GOPers, but we need them to expose every fact about the insurrection they can dig out.