Saturday, June 30, 2012

Michelle gets into God and democracy

You want more God with your politics -- how about this?

First lady Michelle Obama Thursday offered a rare public reflection on her religious faith, telling a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal church that the life of Jesus Christ is a model for democratic organizing.

"It's kind of like church," Obama said. "Our faith journey isn't just about showing up on Sunday for a good sermon and good music and a good meal. It's about what we do Monday through Saturday as well, especially in those quiet moments, when the spotlight's not on us, and we're making those daily choices about how to live our lives.

"We see that in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn't limit his ministry to the four walls of the church," she said. "He was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day. He was out there spreading a message of grace and redemption to the least, the last, and the lost. And our charge is to find Him everywhere, every day by how we live our lives."

Obama, who is not a regular churchgoer, said citizenship like the practice of faith is "not a once-a-week kind of deal."

"Democracy is also an everyday activity," she said. "And being an engaged citizen should once again be a daily part of our lives."

ABC News, June 29

There are a lot of good reasons to not want politicians waving God around. I have heard young evangelical Christians sing happily that "my God is greater than your God," confident they are praising their Lord. In fact they are setting up the prerequisite for the oppression of the wrong-believers and the unbelievers.

But a politics that does not spring from some kind of moral vision -- some kind of generous moral vision -- is just narrow self-interest projected on society. The magic of the market, the extraordinary abundance we enjoy thanks to invention and competition, can blind us to the necessity to extend community to all and to bind ourselves together. That's what a democratic polity does when it is working. It's hard, but the alternatives are horrifying.

I am already curious what the First Lady might do when she finds her feet in a post-presidency. Not until after four more years, of course. But freed from the need to measure every word, what will Michelle do?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Obamacare upheld; now what?

You can almost see the invisible crown above that smug face.

Since I've written so much about the ACA mystery house that Congress and the Prez erected to extend availability of health care to significantly more of us, I suppose I must comment. Thoughts, in no particular order:
  • Now we know, if we didn't already, that our system of government has become something of a revolving monarchy. Yesterday one judge got to decide for the country who has a chance and who dies among millions of people. (Yes, I know, some days we have other kings -- Presidents and maybe spooks and generals. And last decade we had a VP acting as king. We do monarchy these days.) Didn't we once fight a revolution against that sort of unaccountable power? Oh, no, I misunderstood -- we fought a revolution so rich people wouldn't have to pay taxes to the king …
  • Why did yesterday's king do what he did, endorse something he obviously detests? There are theories. Maybe he wanted to immunize his court from the charge of being nothing but a Republican obstacle to the progress of the nation? Maybe he harkened back to his days a legal flack for insurance companies and hospitals -- the health care corporations that stand to profit from the ACA? Or , just maybe, he recognized that if he weren't Chief Justice of the Court he wouldn't be able to get health insurance himself, being 57 and having experienced a small seizure?
  • What will the limitations the court imposed on extending Medicaid do in the real world? Apparently "states rights" are so sacrosanct that seven judges were willing to allow miserly states to opt out of providing help to poor people for acquiring health care. If the obvious candidate states opt to maintain their ideological purity and reject Federal help to extend care, some 2 million people in Texas and nearly as many in Florida will still be without access to doctors in the next decade. That's okay with seven Supremes. Somebody has to compromise you know -- our monarchs will compromise them.
  • Mitt Romney the Republican candidate can now spend the campaign running against Mitt Romney, the Massachusetts governor. Let's hope his grudging Tea Party fan boys find this confusing.
  • I will boldly predict that the health care law decision will play little role in deciding who gets elected President. People already hate it, love it, or tolerate it. But mostly, no one believes in it. Whoever thought it was a smart idea to enact something that would not begin to help people for four years condemned this initiative to long term controversy. Perhaps this was someone who never had to worry about getting health care -- like all our elites?

Friday cat blogging

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Morty knows I'm coming ...

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Two beers

Haven't done one of these posts in awhile. Here in San Francisco, even restaurants that really would prefer to sell you a good bottle of wine frequently offer unconventional (if expensive) beers. Here are two I've enjoyed lately.

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Great can. Aooni is tasty for a Japanese beer. Some reviews call it "bitter" but I just thought it had a bit more flavor than many IPA-type brews that appear this light colored.

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This "Seat of the Devil" is bottled in Sardinia by Birrificio Barley. It's a bit caramel flavored. Not sure it is worth $18 a bottle, but interesting.

On the road today. Politics return tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Warming Wednesdays: a locally owned electric coop?

They sat at a table outside a supermarket, hawking memberships in an electric power cooperative. Their motto, from the Vineyard Power Cooperative website:

"Own your power -- take control of your energy future."

Their hope:

to produce electricity from local, renewable resources while advocating for and keeping the benefits within, our island community. 

Our host on Martha's Vineyard bought into this alternative utility company at its beginnings; she paid a $75 fee, she thinks. Today the buy-in price is $150; it will rise to $975.

What do you get for your money? Not electricity, yet. You get the satisfaction of trying to launch a replacement to the greedy energy behemoths. You are helping to demonstrate that clean(er) renewable electric generation is possible. You are doing the right thing and maybe your investment is a sign of things to come. You show you understand the limits of our climate-destroying energy system and you are willing to do something. There are a lot of less socially useful things you could do with your money.

solar array & parking lot.JPG
Vineyard Power's most visible project to date is this solar array at Cronig's (a supermarket) parking lot in the town of Vineyard Haven. According to their website,

This 210kW photovoltaic installation - to be built in two stages - will produce over a quarter of Cronig's electricity, equal to the combined usage of about 35 average Vineyard homes. 

The cooperative is bidding on blocks of offshore ocean area in which to build wind turbines. Their target blocks are far further away and probably less controversial than those being developed by Cape Wind.

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For the moment, what you can do in Cronig's parking lot is plug in your electric car, if it uses this kind of connector.
I'm something of a skeptic about the world-changing potential of small cooperatives. I've seen organic vegetable coops come and go, popularizing better food, but ultimately succumbing to the market power of huge competitors. Likewise, back in the days when women were frequently denied credit, I helped start a couple of credit unions oriented to doing business by and for women. These thrived for awhile, them died of poor management and small scale. It's really hard for niche marketers to survive in the big bad capitalist world, though they can popularize good ideas.

If I were a Vineyarder, I'd buy in to Vineyard Power. But I'd consider it an ideological donation --worth the current low price, but not much higher. Joining up would make a statement about where we need to go to produce safe energy. That's one among a multitude of initiatives that need to be done.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A former President indicts his country's human rights record

You might think a scathing oped by an 87 year old former President would get some notice -- but Google Trends shows no particular attention to this piece from the New York Times. Some choice excerpts from Jimmy Carter:

Revelations that top officials are targeting people to be assassinated abroad, including American citizens, are only the most recent, disturbing proof of how far our nation’s violation of human rights has extended. This development began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has been sanctioned and escalated by bipartisan executive and legislative actions, without dissent from the general public. …

With leadership from the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” … The declaration has been invoked by human rights activists and the international community to replace most of the world’s dictatorships with democracies and to promote the rule of law in domestic and global affairs. It is disturbing that, instead of strengthening these principles, our government’s counterterrorism policies are now clearly violating at least 10 of the declaration’s 30 articles, including the prohibition against “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Recent legislation has made legal the president’s right to detain a person indefinitely on suspicion of affiliation with terrorist organizations or “associated forces,” a broad, vague power that can be abused without meaningful oversight from the courts or Congress (the law is currently being blocked by a federal judge). This law violates the right to freedom of expression and to be presumed innocent until proved guilty, two other rights enshrined in the declaration.

In addition to American citizens’ being targeted for assassination or indefinite detention, recent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications. Popular state laws permit detaining individuals because of their appearance, where they worship or with whom they associate.

Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable. … We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. …

Meanwhile, the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, now houses 169 prisoners. About half have been cleared for release, yet have little prospect of ever obtaining their freedom. American authorities have revealed that, in order to obtain confessions, some of the few being tried (only in military courts) have been tortured by waterboarding more than 100 times or intimidated with semiautomatic weapons, power drills or threats to sexually assault their mothers. Astoundingly, these facts cannot be used as a defense by the accused, because the government claims they occurred under the cover of “national security.” Most of the other prisoners have no prospect of ever being charged or tried either.

President Carter laments that these crimes against international law, domestic law, and common humanity undermine the moral influence of the United States. That is, he's still a defender of United States' preeminence. But what if we've become indefensible? That's the question for the next generation.

Go read Carter's entire indictment.

Photo shows the former President stumping for his son in 2006 in Reno, Nevada. The younger Carter lost that election; the former President was still a vigorous champion.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Sausage-making at the birth of the nation

Historian Pauline Maier's Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 left me wondering whether our fundamental government structure could have been put in place if the 24/7 news cycle, the internet, blogs, and accompanying public agitation had existed in the late 18th century. The Constitution excited passions, but the sheer length of time it took for news and people to travel ensured that the fights were localized, first in the various lightly populated jurisdictions within which delegates were elected to ratifying conventions, and then in the state conventions themselves. Nine states were required to bring it into force; eleven states eventually came along (and the laggards gave in) but the process involved the kind of compromising and legislative sausage-making that looks mighty ugly on close inspection.

The Constitution itself was written by an assembly of delegates in Philadelphia who closed their deliberations to the public. There they worked out numerous compromises, some very unpopular. There was to be a Senate, an undemocratic body whose members would be chosen by state legislators rather than directly elected; would serve for six year terms which were considered very long; and would include two members from each state without regard for relative populations. There was the notorious (the adjective was applicable, even then) compromise that counted slaves as 3/5ths of a person for the purposes of electing Congressmen; moreover the Constitution allowed the continuation of slave importations for another 20 years. And the new government framework included no bill of rights, something some states already had in their founding documents. It was by no means a foregone conclusion that the Constitution would win favor with enough states.

Maier tells the story very much as it was lived; acrimonious state convention by successive state convention. Pennsylvania led off; its pro-Constitution leaders (the "Federalists") rammed an affirmative vote through over the objections of an angry minority who proceeded to carry their objections to successive state conventions. Massachusetts had one of the more democratic state conventions -- though Federalists had a clear majority, they determined not to create angry losers, listening to weeks of objections and accepting the idea the Constitution might need amendments after ratification. Virginia's convention was the most high-powered intellectually; neither side knew whether the other might have come in with a majority. Revolutionary War-era orator Patrick Henry spoke passionately (and lengthily) against the new system; James Madison honed his arguments in favor, arguments that came to be recognized as the most complete rationale for the structure. By the time New York elected its convention, Federalists and anti-Federalists had organized themselves into contending parties; the majority of the state's delegates were elected as opponents of ratification. Federalists were mainly located in New York City, representing large landowners, merchants and skilled tradesmen. The small-holder dominated, agricultural rest of the state wanted none of this novelty. But during their convention, they learned that nine states had already ratified. Moreover, New York's Federalists proved willing to listen to the need for amendments after ratification, finally carrying the day.
Maier's narrative is exhaustive and I found it somewhat dry and exhausting. Still there were numerous bits that gave me a more rounded sense of the country's early debates.
  • Then as now, policy choices were often about whether proposed structures would lead to taxation. The people we revere as the Founders aimed to create a government with a wide power to tax; they couldn't imagine an effectual government without that power. Californians could take notice.
  • George Washington had a nice turn of phrase for the push by some to hamstring the new federal government in favor of state governments; he called this effort attachment to their "darling sovereignties."
  • Political action that properly deserves the label "grass tops" -- faux populism funded and inspired by elites -- is no novelty. Maier includes a fascinating account of New York City's "Federal Celebration" in which a huge procession pulled a scale model of a ship, the Hamilton. Fascinatingly, the parade's date was chosen in part so as not to clash with a Jewish holiday. I had no idea the Jewish population of New York so large that far back.
The best of the debate over the Constitution drove its participants to try to discern thoughtfully what governance for a revolutionary people who charished "liberty" might look like. Because the Federalists won, they've largely written the history, so we are less aware what the other side was arguing for. With that in mind, I appreciated Maier's presentation of the arguments of Melancton Smith, a New York anti-Federalist, who offered a subtle alternative conception of who would best represent the people.

He proceeded to … describing the nature and function of representation in a republican government as he saw it. Representatives, Smith argued, should together be a microcosm of their constituents. They should "be a true picture of the people; possess the knowledge of their circumstances and their wants; sympathize in all their distresses, and be disposed to seek their true interests." That concrete knowledge of the people's needs and circumstances was better known by "men of the middling class of life . . . than those of a superior class" from which, he feared, the members of Congress would all be drawn. Smith described that "superior" or "first class in the community" as its "natural aristocracy," even though he knew his opponents would deny that any such class existed in the American republic. In every society, Smith explained, "birth, education, talents and wealth, create distinctions among men as visible and of as much influence as titles, stars and garters." Men so distinguished naturally command respect. They could also organize themselves more readily than the people at large. As a result, where the number of representatives was small and the districts large, elected offices would seldom go to substantial yeomen "of sense and discernment." A government controlled by the "few and great" would be, for the masses, "a government of oppression."

Smith denied suggesting that "the great" lacked honesty or principles. All men hold the same passions and prejudices, but the circumstances of their lives "give a cast to the human character." Men in "middling circumstances" had fewer temptations and were less able to gratify those they had. As a result, they tended to be "more temperate, of better morals and less ambition than the great" who consider themselves above the common people, demand respect, and have many of the same feelings as hereditary aristocrats. "Will anyone say" Smith asked, "that there does not exist in this country the pride of family, of wealth, of talents; and that they do not command influence and respect among the common people?" He did not propose to exclude such "natural aristocrats" from office, since "they would be more dangerous out of power than in it." Smith also conceded that they were more capable of grasping "extensive political and commercial information, such as is acquired. by men of refined education." A government should be "so framed" to admit such men "together with a sufficient number of the middling class to control them." He thought a representative body "composed principally of the respectable yeomanry" -- like the ratifying convention -- was "the best possible security to liberty" because the body of every nation consisted of that class, and when its interest was pursued "the public good is pursued."

Smith's position was the direct opposite of James Madison's in the tenth number of The Federalist. Madison saw the threat of majoritarian tyranny in the direct representation of a community's various interests.

Reading this book, I found myself wondering whether I would have been a supporter or an opponent of the Constitution. Of course it wouldn't have mattered a whit -- women had no voice in these debates.
As is the case with many of the books I describe here, I "read" this one as an audiobook. This was not enjoyable. The reader seemed little interested in quite a dense text. But worse, he was addicted to a mispronunciation of the name of one of my ancestors who figured prominently. Mr. Elbridge Gerry, according to family lore, pronounced his last name more like the steel town in Indiana than like Ben & Jerry's. The mispronunciation is common, according to the Massachusetts Historical Society. It grated on my ear.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Too busy at the Gay Pride celebration to blog today

The SAFE California campaign is taking our message to the streets at San Francisco's mammoth festivities today.

I spent yesterday afternoon distributing these stickers. Conversations with my fellow citizens about the November ballot measure to replace the death penalty with sentences of life in prison without parole are fascinating, as usual.

There are some who feel that justice is impossible if the state doesn't reserve the right to kill people who commit awful crimes. But there are many who understand that our death penalty law has created a dysfunctional, expensive monster that isn't delivering either justice or safety.

They are not surprised to hear the 46 percent of murders and 56 percent of rapes each year are not solved, while money is lavished on keeping the death system going. When they think about it -- and, naturally, few do until we speak with them -- they readily believe it would be cheaper to just give offenders one trial and then life in prison. And very few of the folks we speak with are comfortable with the unavoidable risk that California could execute an innocent person.

Back to the streets ...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday scenes and scenery: on the beach at Aquinnah

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The path to the ocean runs across a grassy heath.

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In this season, the grasses are remarkably purple. Does amber come later in the summer?

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The clay cliffs are dramatic.

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Even more so, up close.

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This detail reminded me of the cliffs from which are cut the canyons of ancient Petra in Jordan.

The town of Aquinnah on Martha's Vineyard island in Massachusetts is the home of the Wampanoag tribe and also of secluded compounds enjoyed by wealthy summer residents. Its beach is worth walking in any season.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Friday cat blogging

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Got to make sure the human doesn't slack off ... I'm never sure what I was supposed to be doing when I get that look.

Politically ambidextrous pick up truck

On the one hand, Obama is not trusted ...
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On the other hand, Romney is scorned …
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This washer and dryer mechanic is going to vote, but he doesn't cast his vote without weighing his choices.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On immersion in a psychotherapeutic Christianity

Psychological anthropologist T.M. Luhrmann has written a book that aims to

explain to nonbelievers how people come to experience God as real.

When God Talks Back presents a convincing thesis: with a boost from the cultural stew of the 1960s, many U.S. Christian evangelicals teach themselves to experience a feel-good God by practicing the feeling through prayer practices. That is, their God experience is all about feeling and practice.

…the remarkable shift in the understanding of God and of Jesus in the new paradigm churches of modern American Christianity is the shift that the counterculture made: toward a deeply human, even vulnerable God who loves us unconditionally and wants nothing more than to be our friend, our best friend, as loving and personal and responsive as a best friend in America should be; and toward a God who is so supernaturally present, it is as if he does magic and as if our friendship with him gives us magic, too. God retains his holy majesty, but he has become a companion, even a buddy to play with, and the most ordinary man can go to the corner church and learn how to hear him speak. What we have seen in the last four or five decades is the democratization of God -- I and thou into you and me -- and the democratization of intense spiritual experience, arguably more deeply than ever before in our country's history.

Luhrmann shares years of respectful participant research. She treats her subjects as sympathetic, intelligent people. The result is interesting, but the book left me with lots of questions.
  • Does it ever bother any of these people that their image of God seems to be unequivocally masculine, always "he"? Luhrmann doesn't address the question, a common one in other contemporary faith explorations. And most of these evangelicals she describes seem to have been women -- though this may reflect that their culture is homosocial, so she had more access to women.
  • Does it mean anything to these Vineyard Christians that one of the founders of their denomination was gay? For the record, this inspired hippie was named Lonnie Frisbee.

    … someone at Calvary asked John and Carol Wimber [Vineyard founders] over dinner whether they were able to deal with Lonnie's homosexuality with compassion. The next day Lonnie was fired from visible ministry. (To be fair, Lonnie was also married at the time. Pastors are not supposed to be having affairs.) Within months, he left the church and was more or less expunged from the historical accounts of both Calvary and the Vineyard. In the early 1990s, Lonnie Frisbee died of AIDS.

  • How could U.S. culture have become so ahistorical, so intellectually solipsistic, that it is acceptable to educated adults to read the Bible without thought of its historical context? I'm just too much the historian to be able to imagine this.

    There is no sense that texts from the past hide from us behind authorial intentions we can no longer understand, or that they were written for a social and economic community we do not live in now. On Sunday mornings and in house group, we would read the most obscure and historical texts -- Judges, for example -- as if they were written for us, to help us understand how God wanted us to be with him. This is a common style of reading in evangelical churches.

It seems unfair to fault a book for not answering my questions -- Luhrmann has done a fine, approachable, thoughtful job of answering hers. But I finished When God Talks Back feeling that a lot was missing and wondering -- how can so many of my sister and brother Christians, for I am one of these too, live within a consciousness of God's goodness that so little challenges the conventional pieties and practices of life amid the wealth, power, injustice and violence of the contemporary empire? They cherish their Bibles.

…evangelical Bibles are scrawled on, highlighted, underlined, starred, stuffed with notes and Post-its, and personalized with the possessive aggression of an urban boy spraying graffiti on a wall. Mine.

But do these cherished Bibles change them -- or merely comfort them, merely serve as talismans denoting their essential lovableness? If the latter, contemporary complacent Christianity has birthed a strange fruit.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Warming Wednesdays: Romney v. the planet

Today's post is outsourced to the New York Times Sunday editorial.

Mr. Romney has plainly decided that satisfying his party’s antiregulatory base is essential to his political future. But the policies he espouses would be devastating for the country and the planet. If there are doubts on that point, the most recent findings from the International Energy Agency should dispel them: the agency reports an alarming one-year increase in global greenhouse gas emissions, largely because of increasing coal use around the world.

¶ The agency also said that keeping global temperatures below a dangerous threshold is “still within reach” if nations aggressively reduce fossil-fuel consumption while nurturing low-carbon alternatives. And where is Mr. Romney on that? Nowhere.

¶ The man who once worried about climate-driven sea-level rise in poor countries like Bangladesh now says things like “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet,” as if mainstream science were wrong and humans had nothing to do with it.

¶ On coal, the governor who once stood in front of a Massachusetts coal-fired power plant and said, “that plant kills people,” recently whirled through Craig, Colo., talking up coal and accusing President Obama of making it “harder to get coal out of the ground.”

¶ On oil and gas, Mr. Romney is wholly in the drill now, drill everywhere mode championed by House Republicans. If his spokesmen are to be believed, he would open up vulnerable and legally protected public lands to drilling. Despite his proclaimed belief in a competitive free-enterprise system — and his concerns about the deficit — Mr. Romney is determined to maintain the oil’s industry’s preposterous $4 billion-a-year tax breaks.

¶ When Mr. Romney talks about energy, he means what he calls “real energy” — he-man energy like coal, oil and natural gas, not what he contemptuously dismisses as Mr. Obama’s “imaginary world where government-subsidized windmills and solar panels could power the economy.” Or as he once said, “You can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.”

¶ Meanwhile, the self-described risk-taker who once touted clean energy as “an economic engine very much like biotech” now regularly denounces Mr. Obama for taking risks.

Will the people of the United States elect this horrid whore for the oil companies and the flat earth brigade? It looks too close to call at present.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- unpleasant reminders of an inconvenient truth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Applying for Medicare while gay

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A small selection of the insurance company sales pitches I have received as I approach the magic age of 65.

This is the tale of how I enrolled in Medicare while lying to the government …they made me do it -- really. Here's the story:

One of the nicer byproducts of our becoming an internet society that, when you reach three months before your 65th birthday, you can fill out an online form to sign up for Medicare. No making an appointment at the Social Security office, no finding postage stamps, just sit down at the computer and fill out a simple form. The Social Security Administration even knows how to welcome my age group. The page leads with the headline "Boldly Go Online To Apply For Medicare" and includes a video starring Patty Duke and George Takei in Star Trek uniforms.

So I tackled the form. And the process really is easy. Just five screens to fill out, asking simple stuff like Name, DOB, SS number, citizenship, enrolling in Medicare Part B only? (yes, I'm still working), etc. Until I got to "Group Health Plan Information" -- that's where it gets tricky. ...

Read the rest of the story at Time Goes By.

Amelia Earhart landing site found?

It was a rare event to walk into a lesbian household in the 1970s and not see a picture of the lost aviator Amelia Earhart displayed somewhere. It's not that we really thought she had been "one of us," but she just looked so good in her soft helmet and pilot's leather jacket.

Now the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes they've turned up artifacts from an emergency landing on her trans-Pacific route in 1937. I can't judge the authenticity of the find, but the images in this news clip sure remind me why the woman always seemed such an attractive figure. (Sorry about the embedded ad.)

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rebecca, Woman of Africa

When I visit Martha's Vineyard, I usually wander by the plaque commemorating "Rebecca, Woman of Africa" on the trail to Great Bight. It's hard to read the historical text in the shadows; here is what it says:
Born in Africa and enslaved in Chilmark, she married Elisha Amos, a Wampanoag man. She was the mother of Nancy Michael. Rebecca died a free woman in this place in 1801.
The marker is on an "African American Heritage Trail"; more beach-goers than tourists likely trek by the plaque. According to  trail information, Rebecca actually bore two boys, Cato and Pero, as well as Nancy Michael -- and land holding and inheritance records suggest that none of them were the offspring of Mr. Amos, though that is not completely clear about the boys. It also appears that Rebecca continued in slavery as the property of farmer Charles Bassett and his heirs until her death. There is no record of her emancipation despite the text of the plaque; records show her children Nancy and Pero were sold off after Bassett's death to another farmer.

I wonder, did Nancy Michael, Pero and Cato have children? If so, do any descendants identify as "African"? Or do they think of themselves as members of the local native tribe, as "Indians," since their mother's marriage, if not their paternity, was widely acknowledged?

All this reminded me of questions raised in the fascinating story of Michelle Obama's white ancestors. DNA testing and intensive study of old records are revealing that throughout U.S. history the "races" have never been so rigidly separated as the old "one drop of blood makes a Negro" standard that we lived under so long would have suggested. Recognizing our kinship is not simple.
The discovery [by a white family that a relative had fathered a mixed son] comes as an increasing number of Americans, black and white, confront their own family histories, taking advantage of widespread access to DNA testing and online genealogical records. Jennifer L. Hochschild, a professor of African and African-American studies at Harvard who has studied the impact of DNA testing on racial identity, said this was uncharted territory.

“This is a whole new social arena,” Professor Hochschild said. “We don’t have an etiquette for this. We don’t have social norms.”

“More or less every white person knows that slave owners raped slaves,” she continued. “But my great-grandfather? People don’t know what they feel. They don’t know what they’re supposed to feel. I think it’s really hard.”
The article reports that Black folks -- including the apparently violated women -- were no more willing in the years after emancipation to talk about what had happened under slavery than were the children of the white masters. Is this a bit of exploring that we need to do as a nation, now that the research has become somewhat more possible? I like that idea; it could sure make us let attached to rigid racial categories.
In my own white family tree, I doubt any ancestors ever held slaves, though some of those middling farmers in Connecticut and Massachusetts in the 1700s just might have. By 1800, the ones I know about had decamped to the then far frontier, the shores of Lake Erie at what later became Buffalo. If any cross-racial mixing was happening, it was probably with the local Iroquois who my people described as "savages." It would be foolish to believe that was impossible; after all, pre-historic hominids mixed genes.
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This offering nestled in a tree next to Rebecca's marker.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

At war in Yemen

Might as well say it: the United States is at war in Yemen. The administration would prefer we didn't notice this, but it is true. Listen to Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman at Wired's Danger Room:

For all the handwringing about the undeclared, drone-led war in Pakistan, it’s quietly been eclipsed. Yemen is the real center of the America’s shadow wars in 2012. After the US killed al-Qaida second in command Abu Yahya al-Libi earlier this month, Pakistan is actually running out of significant terrorists to strike. Yemen, by contrast, is a target-rich environment — and that’s why the drones are busier there these days.

The White House has declared al-Qaida’s affiliate in Yemen is to be the biggest terror threat to Americans today. The campaign to neutralize that threat is far-reaching — involving commandos, cruise missiles, and, of course, drone aircraft. It is also, according to some experts on the region, completely backfiring. Since the US ramped up its operations in Yemen in 2009, the ranks of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, have swelled from 300 fighters to more than 1,000.

These authors dig into developing U.S. operations in Yemen and produce considerable evidence that we're slipping more and more deeply into yet another country's civil war.

Ibrahim Mothana tried to get across what is happening in that strategically located ancient country in an oped in the New York Times:

“DEAR OBAMA, when a U.S. drone missile kills a child in Yemen, the father will go to war with you, guaranteed. Nothing to do with Al Qaeda,” a Yemeni lawyer warned on Twitter last month. President Obama should keep this message in mind before ordering more drone strikes like Wednesday’s, which local officials say killed 27 people, or the May 15 strike that killed at least eight Yemeni civilians.

Drone strikes are causing more and more Yemenis to hate America and join radical militants; they are not driven by ideology but rather by a sense of revenge and despair.

I'm old fashioned. I think when a President leads this country into a faraway war that will cause yet another population to hate us, he ought to tell us about it. Did not the Constitution say something about Congress declaring wars? How quaint.

Several sources recommend Waq al-Waq written by Gregory Johnsen, a Princeton scholar, for on-going English coverage of our Yemen war. Just in case we notice that we've poked another hornet's nest.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

BHO makes me happy, again

hope & dream mural detail.jpg
Elections are good for politicians. The need for public approval can get them out of the elite bubble and remind them of their better inclinations. This works especially well when polling says their instincts carry more than 50 percent approval, but hey, it works.

That's my read on President Obama's executive order protecting some 800,000 young people from deportation for the crime of having undocumented parents. The DREAMers were brought to this country as children, raised here, educated here, grew to adulthood as part of the "we" that is "us"-- but were never able to be secure in their country, to work and to study legally.

Obama has always sought (if not very vigorously) a legislative resolution of the conundrum created by millions of people who live and work here without legal status. For decades, employers enjoyed their cheap, exploitable labor; they lived in the shadows without citizenship. Obama's immigration cops have deported over a million people during this administration, demonstrating "toughness" without, as usual, molifying the haters. Meanwhile Congress (mostly the Republicans) refused to pass a comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a legal route to citizenship for those the country attracted and exploited. As Nancy Pelosi tweeted yesterday: "Democratic-led House passed DREAM in 2010. GOP still obstructing."

This executive order not to throw out the successful children of mass immigration for two years is no solution, but it is a start. It's practical: we'd be simply crazy to deport the DREAMers after bringing them up. Of course this country can be dumb sometimes.
And yes, this is good politics for the Prez. It leaves Romney holding a bag of shit, self-smeared with the turds he spewed to bury his rivals in the primaries. Of course he'll lie about that; claiming he never said what he clearly proposed, to force immigrants to "self-deport" by harassing and abusing them. I hope the Dems have the guts to keep stick this to the guy. And we'll get to watch Romney shape shift right in front of us.

I believe Latinos already knew which of two relative evils is a little better. Immigration issues are personal in immigrant communities: it's about tossing out Mother or seeing a nephew shipped to a country where he never lived. When people don't have much power and a lot of pain, they are often very sharp at smelling out the lesser evil and choosing it. But Obama's order certainly will help him turn out Latino voters.
That Obama had to do this by executive order is one more symptom that the system is broken. When one party wants only to destroy government itself, the constitutional balance fails. It's hard to see how this ends well.

But Obama did right yesterday. And a few weeks ago he did right also, sensing a tipping point on marriage equality and getting on the right side of history. Elections are good for politicians.

Photo is a detail from a San Francisco mural.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Friday cat blogging

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Sometimes Morty just need a nap.

Today in gun greed ...

I've got nothing against those of my fellow citizens who are deeply attached to their guns. I'm an urban person so I don't quite get it, but my one of grandfathers and his brothers bequeathed a good supply of hunting rifles to the family. We hung 'em up as decoration and thought them normal accouterments of a house in the country.

But I've got a lot against the NRA. The National Rifle Association don't seem so much devoted defending the right of law abiding citizens to keep their guns as defending the right of anyone who can get a gun to use it with impunity. That's a "right" I don't think any of us, including law-abiding gun owners need.
  • Item: the NRA opposes a simple technical measure that would help law enforcement figure out what gun was used in a crime. According to the New York Times,

    ... what if a shell casing picked up at a murder scene could immediately be tracked to the gun that fired it?… the technology, called microstamping, has been swept up in the larger national debate over gun laws and Second Amendment rights, and efforts to require gun makers to use it have stalled across the nation.

    “I think it is one of these things in law enforcement that would just take us from the Stone Age to the jet age in an instant,” said Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld III of the Baltimore Police Department. “I just can’t comprehend the opposition to it.”

    But legislation proposed in several states to require manufacturers of semiautomatic weapons to use the technology has met with fierce opposition. Opponents, including the gun industry and the National Rifle Association, argue that microstamping is ineffective and its cost prohibitive. They say the proposed system would unfairly focus on legal gun owners when most crimes are committed with illegally obtained guns.

    You know what -- get over it. Anonymity for shooters just isn't anyone's right. The NRA is just shilling for gun manufacturers who don't want the expense of retooling. Their stance has nothing to do with rights and everything to do with an industry's irresponsible greed.
  • Item: the NRA is selling insurance to cover costs of criminal defense. Sure, go ahead, use your gun to shoot someone (perhaps under something like Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law), and the NRA has just the product for you. According to Think Progress:

    The basic liability plan costs either $47 or $67 annually, for coverage up to $100,000 or $250,000, respectively. Though the coverage amounts stay the same, a policy holder can add the self-defense insurance by paying $118 or $165 for the lesser coverage, or between $187 and $254 for the larger plan.

    The NRA's insurance product reads just as confusingly as that from any other insurer. I wonder whether they pay off if criminal defense fails?
The NRA's insurance business was uncovered by cartoonist Matt Bors. Here's his take:
stand your ground ins.png

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A visitor

This amazing creature hung on the screen door.

She is an Io moth. (Yes, "she" is probably a "she" according the the linked article.)

She had no intention of moving when we moved the door. It seems likely she is entirely nocturnal. But for her own protection we urged her on with a twig. She spread her wings, reluctantly.

Imagine going to prison for a crime you didn't commit

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

For this one, it is worth sitting through the 30 second ad at the the beginning. Here's the Rev. Al Sharpton interviewing an amazing guy with whom I get to work on the same team.

More than 2 million people are in prison today; most are guilty. Some are innocent. ...

... You seem like you are not angry and cynical (after being imprisoned for 19 years for a crime you didn't commit...

Indeed Franky Carillo seems more well balanced than most of us on the outside. He's got a great sense of what's important. Maybe he had no choice but to figure that out or go nuts. Listen to his story.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Warming Wednesdays: our human experiment

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My host sat down on the patio and sighed happily: "We're in the county!" And so we are -- me for a brief break; she for the six months she spends in southern New England woodlands.

"The country" -- what does that mean? Certainly this is not the city. It's quiet here and the air seems clean.

But "the country" is certainly not wild. It is harsh, rocky farmland reverted to second and even third growth forest in the short span since Europeans took over here. The woods are full of mossy rock walls marking forgotten property lines. The locals love this land and protect it as well they should, but nobody would call it wild. At 65, even I remember the southern New England countryside as a cleaner, greener, less densely populated place.

These reflections reminded me of this article by Christopher Mims in which he seeks to rouse us to understand that humans have changed how the planet works and that it is up to us to ensure we enable it to function if we hope to live on it in any tolerable way. Here's how he demands our attention:

No one reading this has the slightest fucking clue what “nature” is, and in 1995 fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly proved it. In the paper that introduced the term “shifting baselines,” Pauly described how experts who determined how many fish should be caught often started with whatever the baseline state of the ecosystem was when they started their careers, instead of considering what a fishery might have looked like in the past, when it wasn’t nearly as degraded.

This phenomenon pops up all over the place. In 2009, researchers showed how residents of villages in Yorkshire, England suffered from “generational amnesia,” in which the older ones could remember an ecosystem that younger generations hadn’t a clue had ever existed. It’s not an unintuitive phenomenon: We consider “nature” to be whatever we experienced as children, and, limited by our incomplete grasp of history and our short lifespans, are only capable of recognizing short windows of change in what is by now the most profound transformation the Earth has experienced since the great extinctions of yore — that is, the human experiment.

As a result, few of us are aware that Boston harbor used to be so full of lobsters that the crustacean was considered a food fit only for the poor. Or that overall our Earth used to support a much greater wild, free-roaming biomass, from whales in the millions to old-growth forest ecosystems whose sheer tonnage dwarfs the denuded, “sustainably managed” forests of today.

Our lack of knowledge should not be construed as any sort of moral failing. It’s simply the consequence of a centuries long experiment in exponential population growth that is only just now coming to its apex. We’re currently witnessing the ascension of an ecosystem that cannot survive without the intercession of technology. …

The rest is as challenging as that introduction suggests. He demands that we use our clever brains and powerful technology to envision what a habitable world might look like. We're making the world of the future as we live in the now -- wouldn't it be better choose what it will be like while we still have some memories of the time before humans overwhelmed the planet's balance? Go read it all.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- unpleasant reminders of an inconvenient truth.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Presidential horserace shaping up

The New York Times offers an absorbing election widget. Starting from the link, you can generate your own electoral forecast by dragging states from the Obama circle to the Romney circle (or vice versa) and see how Presidential candidates reach an electoral college majority.

Here's my current take on the race:
Mine is not quite the same as the Times' -- and it is no more meaningful than blowing smoke. I'm pretty certain the election will be close. I'm a moderately informed reader of polls and prognostications and I have some hunches about how various states will turn out, but my enjoyment of this is akin to treating politics as a spectator sport.

And of course politics is not a sport, but the frame that determines how we live. The Washington Monthly's Ed Kilgore described our future if we get a Republican sweep in the November:

Yeah, Social Security and Medicare were fun while they lasted, kind of like handshake deals and dollar lunch specials and home visits by doctors. But no one could seriously think they’d work in this day and age, right? So shredding the safety net in order to give “job creators” lower tax rates and labor costs and more flexible, nimble business structures conducive to the knowledge-based global economy blah blah is what’s obviously necessary to keep up with never-ending change. And we sure don’t need any sclerotic, industrial-age unions around to resist change, particularly in the public sector, which needs to be the handmaiden of the fast-paced blah blah entrepreneurs who are peeking around corners to adapt our nation to its future global leadership role while the rest of us poor dumb cattle mosey along blindly, dependent on their bold genius, right?

Ghastly vision, isn't it? Kilgore is not an intemperate pundit, but the current Republicans seem worthy of caustic comment.

Maybe I'll revisit the widget in September and see if the prospect looks differently then.

On the road today; probably no more blogging ...

Monday, June 11, 2012

War Time without end

Unhappily, the simplest way to describe this book is that Mary L. Dudziak is ready to give up. The U.S. empire tromps around without clothes (but with drones) and apparently we all must accept that is just how it is and pretend that our monstrously deformed permanent wartime is an acceptable foundation for a democratic nation and a humane civilization. In War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences she writes:

We find ourselves in an era in which wartime -- the war on terror -- seems to have no endpoint. This generates an urgent problem in American law and politics: how can we end a wartime when war doesn't come to an end? It is as if time were a natural phenomenon with an essential nature, shaping human action and thought. …

This book takes up the idea of wartime and its effects, showing that a set of ideas about time are embedded in the way we think about war. In particular, we tend to assume that wartime is always followed by peacetime, and therefore that an essential aspect of wartime is that it is temporary. The assumption of temporariness becomes an argument for exceptional policies, such as torture. And those who cross the line during war sometimes argue that circumstances deprive them of agency; their acts are driven or determined by time. ...

Wartime has become the only kind of time we have, and therefore is a time within which American politics must function. President Barack Obama has called our own day "an age without surrender ceremonies" and yet we continue to believe that wartime comes to an end. We are routinely asked to support our troops, but otherwise war requires no sacrifices of most Americans, and as conflict goes on, Americans pay increasing less attention to it. ...

Once upon a time, we were more aware of and more honest about war. I like to remind people that we have a national anthem that refers to war as an occasion of "desolation." In their heyday, the Brits called their worldwide power projection "the wars of empire," Dudziak points out. She goes on to contend that one reason we label World War II "the good war" is that we accept an idealized notion that it had a discreet beginning and end, that our "peacetime" society was little deformed by it.

Such a defined timescale was certainly not the case in the Cold War (1945-1989) as all the many commentators on the ascendancy of the national security state (think Chomsky, Zinn and Johnson) have taught us. Dudziak discusses the interesting point that, after beginning in a frenzy of fear that led to McCarthyism and other assaults on U.S. civil liberties, at length the craziness subsided.

If repression of political rights during the late 1940s and 1950s was caused by the Cold War, why did the domestic scene change [in the 1960s]? Some scholars argue, explicitly or implicitly, that the domestic Cold War ended in the late 1950s, when the impact on rIghts is less measurable. … The legal scholars Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule have a different explanation for why this might have happened. They argue that crises, including wars, "have a half-life, and will decay over time." The reaction to the crisis will recede both because emotional reactions will abate and because "the government will downgrade its threat assessment, and judges will worry less and less about the harms from blocking emergency measures."

Let's hope these guys are right about half-lives, because we've been stuck in a phony "war time" since 9/11 that shows little likelihood of abating. Leaders of both political parties have embraced it. And they have enjoyed an only weakly constrained increase in executive power. Perhaps if, on 9/11 we'd had a President of broad vision who was not surrounded by such authoritarian monsters as Dick Cheney and David Addington, we might have responded to the horror of that day as we should have, by recognizing that an extraordinarily successful made-for-TV movie was no existential threat to the country and certainly no reason to undo our history of law and liberty. We could have grieved, used our power and the outpouring of international sympathy to catch the perps, and brought them to justice in courts of law. But no:

It was President George W. Bush who ultimately brought narrative closure to this ambiguous moment. On September 11 he spoke of evil acts and of national resolve, but on September 12 he was clearer: "The deliberate and deadly attacks which were carried out yesterday against our country were more than acts of terror," he announced. "They were acts of war." This was "a new kind of war," he added the next day. The perpetrators were not horrific criminals. They were not even terrorists, as that word had been understood before. They were, in essence, a new kind of terrorist, able to make war on the most powerful nation on earth. Placing them in the category of warrior might have ennobled them, but this "new kind of war" was against an enemy that would not warrant the honor or protection that historically a warring nation accorded its foe.

Calling the attacks of September 11 an act of war, and characterizing the US. response as a war, was a narrative move of great significance. If war had commenced, the nation had entered an exceptional state, a new time-zone when the usual rules would not apply. The American people would surely have accorded the president some form of extraordinary deference and authority in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 in any case. By signaling that a war had begun, the president signaled the beginning of wartime, an era of enhanced presidential power, which would only come to a close when the war came to an end.

And so, here we are, a lawless rogue state that tortures, "detains," and assassinates with an assumption of timeless unlimited impunity -- because we are living in "war time."

Some of us worked to elect President Obama in the hope that he was simply too intelligent to continue to propagate the essential lie that is this a permanent "war." But no, though he has modified the war's form -- eschewing full scale invasions "of choice," preferring targeted killing and high tech "assistance" to favored friends. And he has set some ostensible limits to the horrors U.S. operatives are allowed to visit on the phony war's captives -- though these are just easily revocable executive orders, shot through with loopholes and exceptions. The world may actually be a little better off with this President whose bellicosity is more intelligently directed, but neither civil liberties nor the international regime of basic human rights has gained much from replacing Bush with Obama. And yes, Romney, a dishonest, self-aggrandizing fellow, would probably be worse.

Anyone who gives a damn about the future of this country and planet needs to be working to end the phony "wartime." Big job, but we have no choice.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Values, economic self-interest, religious diversity and the labor movement

A short item by Keith Humphreys takes aim at a long standing progressive whine:

It’s one of the oldest tropes of the left: Working class people who “should” support liberal candidates instead elect conservatives because they are tricked into voting based on cultural issues (e.g., abortion, religion). In this fashion, the theory runs, conservative candidates fool blue collar people into betraying their own self-interests.

Jonathan Haidt asks rhetorically “But are voters really voting against their self-interest when they vote for candidates who share their values?”. His answer, well-described and defended, is no. Moral and cultural interests are as much self-interests as are economic concerns. Working class voters who support conservatives are therefore not being duped. Rather, they are responding to those of their self-interests which transcend the economic.

Humphreys goes on to point out that rich people also vote their "values" -- often the protection of greed, but hey, it's that sort of society we live in.

All this had me thinking about the debacle in the Wisconsin recall and more generally the ever-more isolated condition of workers organized in unions. Somehow, after reaching its pinnacle of power the 1950s, the labor movement too came to stand in the minds of it leaders and the perceptions of most observers only for the economic interests of its members (and at its best its potential members). Misassessment of workers as solely self-interested economic actors is not limited to liberal intellectuals. Labor leadership in the 60s and 70s found itself challenged by an insurgent counterculture both outside and inside labor whose values were rooted in ending an indefensible war, supporting African American, then women's, then gays' emergence into full citizenship -- these were novel, unfamiliar values. It was easier to retreat into affirming that workers only cared about pay, benefits and pensions than to interact with these unfamiliar values.

But the new values marched on and were eventually assimilated to a very substantial extent by most of the country -- and by a dwindling labor movement itself. Nowadays labor's values -- as well as the most vital, still growing sectors of its membership -- aren't so different from the wider progressive ones anymore. But the assumption that somehow unions are only about homo economicus -- workers as economic actors -- hangs on and undercuts support for labor among more prosperous sectors of the working class, among people who have never known solidarity in the workplace, people who can't imagine that "an injury to one is an injury to all." Labor's communal values often seem submerged by the movement's own ratification of economic self-interest as the main spur to action.

All this makes it so much easier for the likes of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker to attack labor on behalf of his Koch industries sponsors.
Thinking about the operation of values and value differences in the political arena led me to an interesting fragment of social science research.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley conducted three experiments that show less religious people perform acts of generosity more from feelings of compassion than do more religious people. …

“The main take-away from the research is that there may be very different reasons why more and less religious people behave generously, when they do,” said Robb Willer, an assistant professor of sociology at Berkeley and a co-author of the studies. “Across three studies, we found compassion played a much bigger role in the way that less religious people treated others. Religious people, in contrast, tended to behave as generously as they would regardless of how compassionately they felt.”

That is, religious people practicing generosity are "working to rule" more than non-religious people; the latter have to "feel it." Importantly, these researchers are not saying that less religious people are more generous -- both kinds of folks can be generous, but they get there from different values.

I wonder how this observed dichotomy interacts with our political values, especially as we relate to the values of economic self-interest and economic communal solidarity -- to the world of the labor movement.

Whatever else we are, the majority of us in the USA verbally affirm we are religious. Yet the fastest growing segment of the population as far as religious identification goes is "none of the above."

I wonder: when the labor movement has seemed trapped in speaking narrowly to economic self-interest, is it instinctively appealing to the "work to rule" instinct of the historically religious? Do the more empathetic values that have advanced in society and infiltrated labor's reality if not its language spring from the less religious path to forming values identified in this study? Certainly the efficacy of "coming out" in advancing gay rights fits this pattern; knowing someone gay flips an empathy switch and much else seems to follow. Is the labor movement being undermined by changes in our religious affiliations (or lack of them) at the same time it is in the cross hairs of the plutocracy's best shots? Much to ponder.

President Obama is still a black man

Often Charles P. Pierce's fulminations at Esquire are too over the top for me. But in this campaign commentary he catches something all of us chatterers too easily gloss over about the strange and not-always-happy Obama presidency,. Emphasis mine.

… In many ways, this president reminds me of the truck drivers in The Wages of Fear, trying to get the nitroglycerine over the mountains with[out] blowing themselves all to hell and gone. In so many ways, he is still outside of things. In so many ways, he is still the flyer the Democratic party took in 2008. In so many ways, the path he has to walk to re-election is similar to the path he has had to walk through his life. It was hard not to notice the subtext present in all those earnest warnings about hurting the fee-fees of our financial titans. The president was stepping out of his place. The president was being uppity again.

This is also the case with what is perhaps the most noxious idea out there: that Barack Obama "failed" in his promise to "bring the country together," and that he is now — Glorioski! — campaigning like he wants to be president all over again. He is engaging in politics. Mother of mercy, I swear David Brooks is just going to break down and go all to pieces on PBS some evening over the president’s betrayal of his role as the country’s anodyne black man and, of course, his upcoming role as black martyr to incivility and discord. It is his duty, dammit, to be all the things that people like Brooks wanted him to be so that he could lose, nobly, and then the country could go back to its rightful owners.

The event of him is still remarkable. The idea that Americans elected a black man to be its president 40 years after it declined to allow Martin Luther King, Jr. to stand on a balcony without getting shot still maintains its power to awe and inspire. Of course, he can't make full use of that, either, because, as we know, by virtue of his very election, race is no longer an issue in this country. But the rest of us can make of it what we will. There was in his cautious, no-drama campaign a sense that you could get in on the making of history again. It's time for Barack Obama to be as bold as he wants the rest of the country to be. If the path is narrow, you might as well run as walk.

Race still matters. Don't let anyone tell you it doesn't. Maybe someday it won't, but that time is not now, not this year.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Romney struggles to identify a donut

This Buzzfeed offering would be too bullshit even for a partisan like me, except that it happens to draw on a cultural and political divide that I'm familiar with:

I'm very ready to believe that political events with donuts are not Mitt's home territory. You see, as I've written before, at union sponsored events, you can count in the refreshments to be donuts. At non-profit and advocacy group events, look for bagels. As for other possibilities, think poverty and home-cooked food; or, with foundation funding, croissants, an ethnic banquet, or perhaps rubber chicken.

Somehow I doubt that Mitt appreciates these nuances. Evidently he had ventured among the wrong crowd.

On Wisconsin: we are not done

... perhaps, as the Koch-fueled Republicans suggest, it is time to ransack the unions, especially easy these days since they don't seem capable of convincing a majority of Americans that they serve a significant function. Perhaps it is time to admit what becomes more apparent each election cycle: that the national Democratic Party is forever diminished due to chronic ambivalence between corporate power and progressive promises. Perhaps it was time to just give up.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps we wake up, look to ourselves, and realize it is the same as it ever was. Institutions aren't going to deliver us. In a one party system, all else is resistance. Visibility, creativity, bodies in space, the power of purposeful play, engagement, community… all semaphore for a way to live, cloud-tags for the practice of everyday life. We awaken, not to a wake, but to a wakening. We're still here, and we insist on essential visibility.

Overpass Light Brigade, June 7, 2012

Saturday scenes and scenery: view out my office window

Looks as if this downtown street is going to get some new greenery.

And it did. The newcomer looks healthy. I missed the planting; must have been in meetings.

Friday, June 08, 2012


A sampling of Mr. Trump's New York City triumphs.

Too good to miss:

Thieves of light, built by barbarians …
Later this summer, 1 World Trade Center will top out at 1,776 feet. New York will again be proud to have the tallest building in the United States, a new landmark in the race for height. But is that really such a good thing? From the nativity of the skyscraper in the 1860s through its early adulthood in the 1900s, this kind of “progress” was more often denounced than embraced. …

In 1897 The Record and Guide, alarmed by a proposal for a building 2,000 feet high, protested that New York was open “to attack from the audacious real estate owner” who cared nothing about robbing light from the neighbors, adding, “All that is needed is a barbarian with sufficient money and lunacy.” The Chamber of Commerce, equally alarmed, supported legislation to severely restrict skyscrapers. ..

No one talks seriously about banning skyscrapers anymore; indeed congestion has been in recent decades praised, not derided. And so we have before us the prospect of a tower one-third of a mile high, that will be considered a monument of civic pride, a literal triumph out of tragedy. What people would have said in the 1880s and 1890s is barely a footnote.

Christopher Gray in the NY Times

I read this after a day in downtown Los Angeles where a few glimmering "skyscrapers" (many of them more hotels than office towers from their markings) loom over a tiny section of the city center. The buildings are too spread out to block the slightly gray-tinged sky. I remember 15 years ago flying over Los Angeles on a day of deep fog; only two towers peaked out from the city center. Would more protrude today? I don't know.

Yesterday I was using public transportation, then on foot -- an experiment that failed I think. Two hours each way from the airport at LAX to downtown is just too much time and hassle for tiny savings of money and good feelings about caring for the planet. There is indeed something to be said for congestion or at least something to be said against sprawl.