Tuesday, March 21, 2023

What's this "woke" stuff?

I've been trying for a couple of days to work up a post on "woke." Maybe I should just drop the effort, but instead I'll offer a sort of brain dump. Here goes, FWIW -- possibly not much.

For me, being "woke" connotes empathetic awareness of the feelings and life circumstances of other people. When practiced, it might lead to something like to politeness, curiosity, and striving "to be in love and charity" with our neighbors. That's both a lot -- and just the stuff of human life.

That set of connotations may underlie findings that seem to create consternation among political combatants:

According to a recent USA Today/Ipsos Poll, 56% of Americans surveyed say they think that being woke means “to be informed, educated on, and aware of social injustices”.

The same Guardian article by Arwa Mahdawi points out:

The term comes from African American Vernacular English and, originally, was broadly defined as being “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination”.

The term has somewhat escaped that origin context. As is so common with the Black experience in this country, other groups have repurposed the word to refer to additional conditions in which society renders people unseen -- and deserving of awakened attention. This strikes me as both a rip off and a form of cultural appreciation. Your mileage may vary.

As a white person who still, at 75, is often misgendered by oblivious retail clerks, I am viscerally aware that I have spent a lifetime wishing that people could be a little more "woke" to the person in front of them. Though having aged, I just figure they weren't paying attention when they make me male.

Meanwhile, as Molly Roberts observes watching the brouhaha over the "woke" (?!) Silicon Valley Bank:

Woke is the word these days, and conservatives are shouting it whenever they can — to the point that what exactly it’s supposed to mean, beyond “thing that I don’t like,” has become a mystery.
The best commentary on "woke" I've run across anywhere is this discussion between two smart lesbians coming from quite different histories. They decode what people say in Longwell's voter focus groups and by the end find themselves just talking personally about what "woke" has meant in their lives. Enjoy.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Hooray for brain drain

Insights by Stanford Business rightly touts the enormous contributions of immigrants to U.S. prosperity. 

I guess we knew that smart people want to come to this country. But the sheer magnitude of immigrant contributions to invention and entrepreneurial success are enormous.

The United States has long touted itself as a nation built by immigrants. Yet there has never been a precise measure of immigrants’ contribution to the country’s economic and technological progress. Around the time that President Donald Trump was moving to curb employment visas for skilled foreigners, economist Rebecca Diamond and a team of researchers set out to examine this unresolved question.

To find the answer, the researchers looked at the output of nearly 880,000 Americans who patented inventions between 1990 and 2016. They found that immigrants made an outsize contribution to innovation in the U.S. While they comprised 16% of inventors, immigrants were behind 23% of the patents issued over these years.

It wasn’t just a matter of quantity: The share of patents immigrants produced was slightly higher when weighted by the number of citations each patent received over the next three years, a key measure of their quality and utility. Moreover, immigrants were responsible for a quarter of the total economic value of patents granted in that period, as measured by the stock market’s reaction to new patents.

Obviously, Stanford and Silicon Valley focus on the large number of skilled inventors attracted here -- but despite everything -- despite Trump, Biden, and whatever other exclusionists rule the roost -- this country remains the desired destination for people with "get up and go" from across the planet. Even newcomer unskilled laborers are often the most capable of their families, off to seek a better life, however hard that may be. And we get the benefit.

For all our problems, a goodly quantity of people manage to bring their drive and their hopes to this country. You see some of this in Europe, but you sure don't see the global best and brightest trying to immigrate to China ... this is what we do here.

Yes, this is brain drain from across the globe. The only way to stop it -- short of walls and violence and cutting off our noses to spite our faces -- is to help other countries become equally attractive. That seems a long shot.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Michigan goes blue; Ohio stays red; Nevada splits the difference

Here's an interesting discussion of why Michigan and Ohio, states which might seem similar, have diverged politically since 2016. In that year, both voted for Donald Trump. By 2022, Michigan elected Democrats to state offices across the board, while Ohio elected Republicans to the U.S. Senate and statewide. The latter is now considered a solid "red state," while Michigan looks solidly "blue."

These are apparently demographically similar places, with only small differences:

Michigan and Ohio have similar white populations, 78% and 80%, respectively; Black populations, 14% and 12%; bachelor’s degree recipients, both 18%; people over 65, both 17%; median household incomes, both $59,000 in 2020 dollars; and workers belonging to unions, 13% and 12%.

The study's authors go on to discuss whether perhaps different voting laws shape different electorates. Michigan has put in place automatic voter registration through the DMV and election day registration. Ohio makes potential voters sign up a month in advance. Michigan's easier voting laws may make for increased participation.

According to the Michigan secretary of state’s official election results, there were 4.5 million total votes in the gubernatorial election, the highest office contested in 2022. Meanwhile in Ohio, the secretary of state reported 4.2 million total official votes cast for governor. ... The total number of voters in Ohio dropped by 295,466 between 2018 and 2022.
Well - maybe. But I have reservations, based having worked the election in Nevada in 2022. Under a Democratic governor and legislature, both elected in 2018, that state put in place election laws that do everything possible to make voting easy. Every Nevadan got a ballot in the mail, could mail it in or vote it in person as much as two weeks before election day, or register on election day if somehow they'd missed out on the mailing or at the DMV. 

And Nevada remained its deeply divided self in 2022, replacing its Democratic governor with a Republican, and re-electing a Democratic U.S. Senator, both by razor thin margins.

So very easy voting in Nevada (easier than in Michigan I think) wasn't enough to shape the partisan outcome.

The authors of the Michigan/Ohio comparison note one considerable discrepancy between but don't discuss it much:

Ohio voters were less likely to reside in a union household – 21% to 27% – and were much more likely to identify as Republicans, 41% to 32%.

Did the labor movement in Michigan get out the vote?

From what I saw in Nevada, it was the massive commitment of the hospitality union -- Culinary/UniteHERE -- to electing the Democrat that saved Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Union membership in Nevada is not so different than in the other two states, between 11 and 12%. But a determined, high functioning union sector can make a difference in outcomes. And, so far, union membership does keep a lot of Nevadans identifying as Democrats. 

Perhaps unions in Ohio, despite their nominal membership, are not doing the work of communicating the advantages of Democratic governance to their people. Or maybe, their members have irrevocably soured on messages from these unions. These study authors conclude that whatever is going on, it may not be irrevocable --"... writing off Ohio as a noncompetitive state may be premature." Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown will be testing this out in 2024.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Terrible memories, terrible crimes that are not forgotten

I can only say: at least the New York Times rightly situates its retrospective article on the United States' invasion of Iraq in a cemetery.

That war was a fraud and a crime from its outset. Iraqis died; Iraqis were made refugees in their own country and beyond; Iraqis are still physically insecure and impoverished by corruption in their own country where sectarian differences can still be deadly.

That war broke a generation of U.S. soldiers sent battle for incomprehensible, sometimes non-existent, ends.

That vicious, preposterous war of aggression ensures that much of the world disbelieves the United States and Europe when we decry Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Unsurprisingly, Americans are not popular:

“My opinion of the Americans is negative, because if someone comes and kills my family and I don’t have any power to fight them, it leaves a hatred,” [Waleed Dhahi, now 23,] said. “Of course life continues and we must start again. But I lost my family and that has affected me, and sometimes I wish I had died with them.”

Friday, March 17, 2023

Friday cat blogging

This seems a bit saccharine as pseudo-icons tend to be -- but fun. According to CatGenie:

March 17th is the feast day of one very special saint, who is often grossly overlooked by the history books. Her name is Saint Gertrude of Nivelles, and she’s the Patron Saint of… you guessed it: CATS. ...

So, who was Saint Gertrude? Well, born in 628 to a noble family in what is now modern day Belgium, your girl Gerty was one sassy lassie, as God-loving as she was headstrong. At the tender age of 10, when presented with the prospect of marriage to a duke, Gertrude set the record straight and insisted that she wasn’t ever gonna marry no duke. In fact, she wasn’t gonna marry no man at all, so jot that down, thank you very much.

Some time later, after the death of Gertrude’s father, Gertrude’s mother Itta shaved her daughter’s head in the “tonsure” style that monks often wear. Gertrude and Itta then travelled to Nivelles and established the Abbey of Nivelles, which served as a Benedictine nunnery. Later, it became a monastery for both nuns and Irish monks alike. A scholarly and charitable woman, Gertrude spent many years of her life as Abbess to the monastery, dedicating her time to helping the sick, the elderly, and the poor. This earned her a reputation as a patron saint of travellers, widows, and the mentally ill. Today, she is called upon to ward off rats, fever, and insanity....

... When someone wanted to get rid of a rat infestation, they called upon Saint Gertrude. As such, much of the iconography that surrounds Saint Gertrude includes little rats and mice at her feet. Did people in the Medieval times necessarily know that rats carried with them the Black Death? Weirdly enough, probably not. At least not for like, a while. Yikes.

In the 1980s, devoted Christian Gertrude-lovers took the leap from associating Gertrude as a rodent-banisher to a protector of cats (who, you know, are also rodent-banishers.) To quote Thomas J. Craughwell, “St. Gertrude is invoked against mice and rats, which has led cat lovers to assume that Gertrude was a cat person, and so the ideal patron of their favorite pet.”

Imagine the cats' response to this is something like "we don't need no stinkin' saint ... But you could put out more cat food ..."

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Where you gonna lay your head?

Last summer while working in Reno to re-elect a Democratic U.S. Senator, Erudite Partner and I found ourselves having to learn a lot about housing. 

For me, that meant scrambling for places for incoming canvassers, something that you might think would be easy in a tourist town still trying to find its feet after the pandemic. It was not easy. We ended up with a shifting variety of solutions: extended stay hotels (heavily booked), short term corporate apartment rentals (pricey and some of them just plain weird), and finally, rooms at a run-down but unionized casino. 

Kasa Archiv where some of us ended up living...definitely weird.
For the E.P., learning about housing was a matter of equipping our hard working canvassers to talk about an issue they quickly discovered mattered desperately to many of the infrequent, low income voters they were meeting at the doors. Yes, people cared about abortion rights and keeping crazies out of government (and gas prices which pushed them away from us), but whether they would be able to keep a place to live that they could afford was often their main issue. 

Reno had seem an influx from California during the pandemic; it is growing a tech-industrial economy that displaces the old time Nevadans. It was a frequent experience for our canvassers to knock on a door, only to learn that the voter had been evicted. Sometimes the address no longer existed, torn down to make way for expensive future condos. 

To the credit of the Culinary/UniteHERE in Nevada, the union has taken on Nevada's housing squeeze, using its hard-won political clout to lobby for rent controls and other fixes. What good is a union contract if the worker can't afford to live where their job is located?

2022 was not a good time to be a renter in Reno. E.P. has taken the lessons of Nevada nationwide in her new essay for the syndicator, Tom Englehart: Don't Try to Find a Home in Washington, D.C. Or Pretty Much Anywhere Else If You're a Renter. 

E.P. asserts there exist a menu of policy solutions that should help:

There is no single solution to the growing problem of unaffordable housing, but with political will and organizing action at the local, state, and federal levels it could be dealt with.

 Read all about it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

What did Ron DeSantis do at Guantanamo?

So anti-woke Florida bully-boy Governor Ron DeSantis (an aspiring Republican presidential nominee) has thrown down with the view that Russia's attempt to erase Ukraine and Ukrainians is just a "territorial dispute." Apparently he fears Donald Trump's Putin-love will upstage him unless he goes along. Kind of pathetic, but common behavior from people who only punch down.

If DeSantis prevails in his bid to lead the GOPers, there's a detail in his biography that will probably get more attention. As a newly minted Navy legal officer in 2006, DeSantis got an education in punching down at the U.S. gulag at Guantanamo. He doesn't talk about it much, but as part of his self-presentation as stand-up military guy, it will certainly draw at least some scrutiny.

It's not at all clear what DeSantis did at America's Cuban prison. He was there at a particularly bad time, when, interrogators frustrated because their captives didn't provide intelligence about al Qaeda (because the prisoners didn't have any) turned to brutal methods. Prisoners responded with a hunger strike -- having no other recourse to assert their humanity, they became willing to starve themselves. Official accounts say DeSantis filled a very junior paper pusher role; this makes sense. But the Florida BullDog, a muckraking online pub, passes on a story from a released detainee which adds to some color to DeSantis' Guantanamo tour.

Mansoor Adayfi, formerly detainee #441 and also known as Abdul Rahman Ahmed, says JAG Officer Ron DeSantis observed, allowed and participated in illegal acts of torture to help put down a hunger strike in 2006 by dozens of detainees protesting their detention. DeSantis also covered up the torture, Adayfi says.

The Yemen-born Adayfi, held for 14 years without charges, was released in 2016 and flown to Serbia to start a new life after a review board determined he was not a threat to the U.S. He made his allegations about DeSantis in a Nov. 18 interview podcast of Eyes Left, hosted by U.S. Army veteran and anti-war activist Michael Prysner, a graduate of Florida Atlantic University.

“I saw a fucking handsome person who was coming. He said, ‘I’m here to ensure that you’re treated humanely.’ And we said, OK, this is our demand, you know. We’re not asking for much,” Adayfi said. He said DeSantis went on, “And if you have any problems, if you have any concerns, if you have…just talk to me.’ And you know we, we, we, we’re drowning in that place. I’m like, ‘Oh, this is cool.’ That person actually writing something. He will raise the concerns, but it was [a] piece of the game. What they were doing, they were, they were looking what’s [going to] hurt you more, to use against you.”

Adayfi, now 44, said DeSantis watched with amusement as he and other detainees were repeatedly force-fed Ensure, a “meal replacement” shake, through a nasal feeding tube pushed down their throats.

With considerable pride, Adayfi continues:

*So, when he approached me, I said this is the way we are treated. He said, ‘You should start to eat.’ …I threw up on his face. Literally on his face.”
True story? Only DeSantis knows and he's not answering questions. The image of a prisoner striving for some smidgen of dignity under intolerable conditions by throwing up in the face of his jailer stays with with me. 

DeSantis, during his time in Congress, consistently joined the Republican push to keep Guantanamo open despite most of its inmates being declared no danger to Americans, while denying access to American courts to the few who were actually charged with specific crimes.

Not all military lawyers sent to work at Guantanamo ended up punching down solely. For some, their attachment to law led to a different path. Colonel Moe Davis who was DeSantis' boss later left his post refusing to use evidence obtained through torture.

Cartoon credit: DonkeyHotey

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

He got away with murder. Or did he?

Kyle Rittenhouse. Oh yeah, the troubled teenager who grabbed up an AR-15 and drove to Kenosha, Wisconsin to play vigilante during protests in 2020 against the police shooting of Jacob Blake. He killed two young white men playing protester and severely injured another. A Kenosha jury called Rittenhouse's exploit self-defense. His surviving victim is trying to add him to a civil suit against the city and Ritttenhouse is apparently evading subpoenas.

Shortly after he got off on the murder charge, Rittenhouse showed some interest in getting out of the public view and perhaps making a life. But he hasn't gone that way. Instead, he's been performing on the rightwing grifter circuit -- and apparently not being much of an attraction.

His promoters are still using this childish photo, three years after his defining moment. Guess he plays to someone's notion of the innocent all-American white boy.

Mother Jones journalist Stephanie Mencimer has been following the young man's trajectory.  Her account is sad and sensitive.

Rather than slink off into anonymity after his acquittal, Rittenhouse has spent the past year trying to rebrand himself as a free speech and gun-rights activist. Following the siren song of the right-wing industrial complex, Rittenhouse, now 20, spends his time going on podcasts, attending conventions, and taking selfies with fans. ... after a year on the right-wing circuit, Rittenhouse has shaved off any introspection from his public commentary, opting instead for conservative buzzwords about gun rights and the left. 

In public appearances, he seems baffled by the rest of the world’s refusal to exonerate him and embrace the Kenosha jury’s conclusion that he’d acted in self-defense. The problem, of course, is that the verdict didn’t absolve him of taking an assault rifle into a violent protest in the first place. “The conscious choice to impose a risk—even permissible risk, as in the case of driving—opens a person up to moral liability,” the Oxford professor moral philosophy Jeff McMahan told the New Yorker in 2017.  “People who are not culpable can nevertheless be responsible.”

Former First Lady Laura Bush was also 17 when she ran a stop sign and killed another 17-year-old driver. In a memoir, she wrote of losing her faith afterwards, and being “wracked by guilt for years after the crash.” Bush suffered in silence for more than 40 years. “Most of how I ultimately coped with the crash was by trying not to talk about it, not to think about it, to put it aside,” she wrote. “Because there wasn’t anything I could do. Even if I tried.”

Killing those men in Kenosha is all Rittenhouse talks about. From the beginning, Rittenhouse has been preyed on by right-wing opportunists. Bad actors anointed him a hero and absolved him of culpability. They’ve pushed him in front of the klieg lights ...

Mencimer's story feels sad and vacant. And most likely to end badly. 

I'm reminded of another famous killer who seemed to escape appropriate punishment, though not the verdict of society. Ex-cop and ex-elected official Dan White convinced a jury he was high on a twinkie when he killed George Moscone, mayor of San Francisco, and Harvey Milk, our first gay member of the Board of Supes. He got off with a short prison sentence. 

White died by carbon monoxide suicide in his garage two years after his release.

Monday, March 13, 2023

As we await a Nor'easter on Martha's Vineyard ...

Much of this summer tourist island is shut down or hunkered down for the New England winter. But the characteristic post-pandemic economic dislocations persist here too. 

I was greeted by this sign while looking for bird seed at the feed store.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Daylight Saving Time, again

Oh please ... Paul Poast, an International Relations and Foreign Policy prof at the University of Chicago, shares the origins of this nuisance in a tweet thread. The Great War in Europe of 1914-18 inspired the idea among belligerents in order to save coal (it probably didn't). The U.S. played along when we joined the fray in 1917.

The idea required some public education. Note it was "for the soldiers."

After the war we just kept this novelty and are STILL trying to get rid of it. 

Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have repeatedly introduced legislation to keep us permanently on what is now called Daylight Saving Time. Now that's some bipartisanship. I'm all in for their bill.