Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I wonder who lives in there?

Both sighted on the Skyline Trail between Huddart and Wunderlich Parks in San Mateo County.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Somebody loves Dolly

Not so much the contemporary Dolly as the ur-Dolly. But that's okay with me. I like Dolly too.

Noted in one Noe Vally precinct. These photos are by-products from my photoblog project: 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. If intrigued, take a look and sign up for sporadic email updates.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Odd couple

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Varieties of urban lonliness

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saturday scenes and scenery: lonely spherules

At least we can huddle together, if they are going to leave us out here.

Fortunately, I can't fit down the drain.

The dying leaves have camouflaged me; will they find me?

These photos are by-products from my photoblog project: 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. If intrigued, take a look and sign up for sporadic email updates.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday cat blogging: suspicious passer-by observed (part 2)

As I walk San Francisco's precincts, they seem to question my right to the streets ...

This may not be disapproval, those narrowed feline eyes seem to warn me off.

Who are you, anyway?

This one seems secure in its beauty.

Can I be excused from thinking you are a little unusual looking? Probably not.

These photos are by-products from my photoblog project: 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. If intrigued, take a look and sign up for sporadic email updates.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Commentary from the ranks is not a newfangled innovation

Yet another Ray Gordon drawing presumably derived from Ray's World War II military service. Admiral Chester Nimitz was Commander in Chief of Pacific theater operations. Locally in the San Francisco Bay Area, Nimitz gave his name to one of our most impacted freeways.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cafe con leche y azúcar

Our last morning in Granada, this was my breakfast coffee.  The sugar packet is from the Cumbal company.

As readers here can imagine, I'm loving Spain. Click the photo to enlarge and read more easily.

A premonition?

This picture is a by-product from my photoblog project: 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. If intrigued, take a look and sign up for sporadic email updates.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Any suggestions about who is represented here?

 For this one, I'm reminded of Vladmir Putin (flatteringly depicted) or perhaps a Roman emperor.

This fellow might be more impressive without the flower pot doubling as a fez.

These photos are by-products from my photoblog project: 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. If intrigued, take a look and sign up for sporadic email updates.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Is there a mechanic in the house?

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Once so vital, now bereft of utility ...

Will anyone rescue this antique?

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Parque Nacional Ordesa y Monte Perdido

Some call it Spain's Grand Canyon, but I think the better comparison might be to Yosemite Valley -- magnificent water falls, day hikers, and mountain splendor. Click to embiggen!

I found this sign charming

Wouldn't want to miss any Fed-Ex deliveries or proselytizing Jehovah's Witnesses?

This photo is a by-product from my photoblog project: 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. If intrigued, take a look and sign up for sporadic email updates.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday cat blogging: suspicious passer-by noted (part 1)

As I walk about San Francisco precincts with my camera, they observe me.

And sometimes I catch them checking me out.

Very occasionally, they have companions.

They are nearly always a little wary.
Unknown humans are not to trusted, it seems.
To be continued...
These photos are by-products from my photoblog project: 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. If intrigued, take a look and sign up for sporadic email updates.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Who is he?

I don't know.

This picture is a by-product from my photoblog project: 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco. If intrigued, take a look and sign up for sporadic email updates.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Warming Wednesdays: burning times

Unsurprisingly, the people who fight wildfires are not climate change deniers. They know what they are seeing.

The National Wildlife Federation summarizes how global warming increases wildfire risks.

  • Longer fire seasons will result as spring runoff occurs earlier, summer heat builds up more quickly, and warm conditions extend further into fall. Western forests typically become combustible within a month of when snowmelt finishes. Snowpack is now melting 1 to 4 weeks earlier than it did 50 years ago.
  • Drier conditions will increase the probability of fire occurrence. Summertime temperatures in western North America are projected to be 3.6 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit higher by mid-century, enhancing evaporation rates, while precipitation is expected to decrease by up to 15 percent. The Southwest will be hit particularly hard, perhaps shifting to a more arid climate.
  • More fuel for forest fires will become available because warmer and drier conditions are conducive to widespread beetle and other insect infestations, resulting in broad ranges of dead and highly combustible trees. Higher temperatures enhance winter survival of mountain pine beetles and allow for a more rapid lifecycle. At the same time, moderate drought conditions for a year or longer can weaken trees, allowing bark beetles to overcome the trees’ defense mechanisms more easily.
  • Increased frequency of lightning is expected as thunderstorms become more severe. In the western United States a 1.8 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature is expected to lead to a 6 percent increase in lightning. This means that lightning in the region could increase by 12 to 30 percent by mid-century.
The bottom line is that the overall area burned is projected to double by late this century across 11 western states if the average summertime temperature increases 2.9 degrees Fahrenheit, with Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah being hit particularly hard.

Not to mention Arizona and California ...

H/t Juan Cole for the video clip.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A memorial to people who fought for freedom in the 20th Century

This memorial occupies a corner of the ancient synagogue of Barcelona. The foundations of the tiny building date from the third or fourth century C.E. It served a longstanding Jewish community until 1391 when Christians responded to the Black Plague by burning as many Jews as they could find.

According to museum staff, the memory of the ancient Jewish community had disappeared from the city’s history until archeological investigations in the 1980s. In 2002, the building re-opened as a museum.

The museum board chose to display the memorial palm above and next to it, an honor roll. In the shadow of the atrocious failure of justice in my country in the Trayvon Martin killing, I was moved to see these familiar names:
I'll resume my internet break now.

Consider that, gentlemen

The Oklahoma state senator made her point with this amendment to one of forced-pregnancy folks' attempts to bestow "personhood" on an egg.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Monday, July 15, 2013

An enlightening website

Visit the source for way too much more of the same.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"If I didn't get letters from my family, I'd have done life in prison …"

We've seen change here … we've seen people come home because of a letter.

I see mail as a lifeline...

When you don't get mail, it messes you up ...

Inside, there's a world of insanity. The only sanity they get oftentimes are the letters...

On a nightly basis, when you're in custody, the one thing you look forward to is your mail …

Santa Clara County jail officials proposed to stop inmates from receiving letters. They would restrict inmates to postcard communications. County residents -- families of the incarcerated, the formerly incarcerated, faith leaders, re-entry service providers, civil rights and legal advocates -- met with the officials to share their perspectives as to why letters are critical to maintain for inmates, their loved ones, and the community as a whole.

Let's hope Santa Clara authorities rethink this short-sighted idea.

H/t Silicon Valley DeBug.

I'm on the road and off the grid. Well, at least I intend to be free of the internet until early August, though I may drop in occasionally. But never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

On the road and mostly off the grid

Today we take off for nearly three weeks wandering around Spain. This is new territory for us. We've spent time in Africa, a few weeks in tiny bits of west and east Asia, longer and shorter stretches in the reaches of the Americas, but the mother continent for U.S. white people -- Europe -- has not been our destination. Now it is. If I learn something (and I know I have vast amounts to learn), I'm sure it will turn up in future posting here, probably when we get back, possibly while we're there, though I hope to restrain myself.

Never fear -- there will be a new post here daily. Mostly visual posts, but intriguing I hope.

For now, I thought I'd share some relics of the days when my parents went a-voyaging to the Old World, some years before they were married.

Then as now, there was a market for selling pictures of themselves to tourists. On this 1926 tour bus in Milan, my father is the very young man 5th from the left.

Mother had adventurous parents who took their daughters on a Mediterranean cruise the same year. There she is, side-saddle on a donkey, somewhere in Jerusalem.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Splintered histories: the European killing fields of 1932-1945

Historian Timothy Snyder aims to put sundered histories of mid-20th century Europe back together in Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. If we think of that time at all, we might dredge up grainy pictures of Soviet leaders reviewing passing troops on May Day or of Nazi concentration camps. Snyder wants us to understand that the dynamics of regimes' favored utopias in both Stalin's Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany have meshed to leave Western Europeans and people in the United States with a set of incomplete, splintered stories.

From Bloodlands
To this end, Snyder would have us comprehend, take in and take on, the awful horrors that were perpetrated in the lands fought over by the two colossuses.
The region most touched by both the Nazi and Stalinist regimes was the bloodlands: in today's terms, St. Petersburg and the western rim of the Russian Federation, most of Poland, the Baltic States, Belarus, and Ukraine. This is where the power and the malice of the Nazi and Soviet regimes overlapped and interacted.

The bloodlands are important not only because most of the victims were its inhabitants but also because it was the center of the major policies that killed people from elsewhere. For example, the Germans killed about 5.4 million Jews. Of those, more than four million were natives of the bloodlands: Polish, Soviet, lithuanian, and Latvian Jews. Most of the remainder were Jews from other east European countries. The largest group of Jewish victims from beyond the region, the Hungarian Jews, were killed in the bloodlands, at Auschwitz. If Romania and Czechoslovakia are also considered, then east European Jews account for nearly ninety percent of the victims of the Holocaust. The smaller Jewish populations of western and southern Europe were deported to the bloodlands to die.

Like the Jewish victims, the non-Jewish victims either were native to the bloodlands or were brought there to die. In their prisoner-of-war camps and in Leningrad and other cities, the Germans starved more than four million people to death. Most but not all of the victims of these deliberate starvation policies were natives of the bloodlands; perhaps a million were Soviet citizens from beyond the region.

The victims of Stalin's policies of mass murder lived across the length and breadth of the Soviet Union, the largest state in the history of the world. Even so, Stalin's blow fell hardest in the western Soviet borderlands, in the bloodlands. The Soviets starved more than five million people to death during collectivization, most of them in Soviet Ukraine. The Soviets recorded the killing of 681,691 people in the Great Terror of 1937-1938, of whom a disproportionate number were Soviet Poles and Soviet Ukrainian peasants, two groups that inhabited the western Soviet Union, and thus the bloodlands. …
Some awareness of Nazi mass murders, almost all carried out during the war years 1939-45, survives in the west, though Snyder maintains our mental images are inaccurate, incomplete. Mostly, we're far less conscious of Stalin's crimes; these seem very far away in a very foreign place. Snyder's account begins with the intentional famine that collectivization of agriculture brought about in Soviet Ukraine. In the Soviet belief system of the era,
… peasant societies had no right to exist in the modern world.
To defend the world's only socialist country, it was rational and moral to extort from farmers everything they grew in order to accomplish rapid industrialization. Soviet party workers, many Ukrainian themselves, were dispatched methodically to seize Ukrainian peasants' harvests and even their seed grain .
Children born in Soviet Ukraine in the late 1920s and early 1930s found themselves in a world of death, among helpless parents and hostile authorities. A boy born in 1933 had a life expectancy of seven years. … In the face of starvation, some families divided, parents turning against children, and children against one another. As the state police, the OGPU, found itself obliged to record, in Soviet Ukraine "families kill their weakest members, usually children, and use the meat for eating." Countless parents killed and ate their children and then died of starvation later anyway. …

… People in Ukraine never considered cannibalism to be acceptable. Even at the height of the famine, villagers were outraged to find cannibals in their midst, so much so that they were spontaneously beaten or even burned to death. Most people did not succumb to cannibalism. An orphan was a child who had not been eaten by his parents. … The Soviet census of 1937 found eight million fewer people than projected: most of these were famine victims in Soviet Ukraine, Soviet Kazakhstan, and Soviet Russia, and the children that they did not then have. …
Snyder estimates 5.5 million direct deaths by starvation. While some in the West let their hopes for Soviet socialism blind them to what was happening in the "workers' state," they were particularly likely to disbelieve news of the famine because of who was then trumpeting the story: the newly installed German dictator, Adolf Hitler.
The worst political famine in history seemed like a minor news item compared to the establishment of a new dictatorship in the German capital. … Hitler had used the Ukrainian famine in his election campaign, making the event a matter of furious ideological politics before it was established as historical fact. As he raged against the "Marxists;' Hitler used the starvation in Ukraine as an indictment of Marxism in practice. … With a single word (Marxists) Hitler united the mass death in the Soviet Union with the German social democrats, the bulwark of the Weimar Republic. …
Consolidating and industrializing the most geographically and ethnically diverse empire the world had ever seen was a bumpy project. The Soviet leadership was convinced that everything that went wrong -- and naturally much did -- as evidence of sabotage. Somebody had to pay. In the Great Terror of 1937-38, some three quarters of a million Soviet citizens, again peasants and non-Russian minorities, were methodically charged with chimerical offenses, tortured, and executed by shoots to the head.
In these years of the popular Front, the Soviet killings and deportations went unnoticed in Europe. Insofar as the Great Terror was noticed at all, it was seen only as a matter of show trials and party and army purges. But these events, noticed by specialists and journalists at the time, were not the essence of the Great Terror.

The Great Terror was a third Soviet revolution. Whereas the Bolshevik Revolution had brought a change in political regime after 1917, and collectivization a new economic system after 1930, the Great Terror of 1937-1938 involved a revolution of the mind. Stalin had brought to life his theory that the enemy could be unmasked only by interrogation. His tale of foreign agents and domestic conspiracies was told in torture chambers and written in interrogation protocols. Insofar as Soviet citizens can be said to have participated in the high politics of the late 1930s, it was precisely as instruments of narration. For Stalin's larger story to live on, their own stories sometimes had to end. …

… This third revolution was really a counterrevolution, implicitly acknowledging that Marxism and Leninism had failed. In its fifteen or so years of existence, the Soviet Union had achieved much for those of its citizens who were still alive: as the Great Terror reached its height, for example, state pensions were introduced. Yet some essential assumptions of revolutionary doctrine had been abandoned. Existence, as the Marxists had said, no longer preceded essence. People were guilty not because of their place in a socioeconomic [class] order but because of their ostensible personal identities or cultural connections. Politics was no longer comprehensible in terms of class struggle. If the diaspora ethnicities of the Soviet Union were disloyal, as the case against them went, it was not because they were bound to a previous economic order but because they were supposedly linked to a foreign state by their ethnicity.

The link between loyalty and ethnicity was taken for granted in the Europe of 1938. Hitler was using this very argument, at this very time, to claim that the three million Germans of Czechoslovakia, and the regions they inhabited, must be allowed to join Germany. …
The worst of the Soviet state's mass murders took place before World War II; Hitler's murderous crimes began with the dismemberment of Poland in 1939 in which the Soviets cooperated. Snyder explains the impetus for the Nazi-Soviet (Molotov-Ribbentrop) pact of that year which so distressed Western leftists:
Hitler and Stalin both confronted the two chief inheritances of the British nineteenth century: imperialism as an organizing principle of world politics, and the unbroken power of the British Empire at sea. Hitler, unable to rival the British on the oceans, saw eastern Europe as ripe for a new land empire.The East was not quite a tabula rasa: the Soviet state and all of its works had to be cleared away. But then it would be, as Hitler said in July 1941, a "Garden of Eden."

The British Empire had been a central preoccupation of Stalin's predecessor Lenin, who believed that imperialism artificially sustained capitalism. Stalin's challenge, as Lenin's successor, was to defend the homeland of socialism, the Soviet Union, against a world where both imperialism and capitalism persisted. Stalin had made his concession to the imperialist world well before Hitler came to power: since imperialism continued, socialism would have to be represented not by world revolution but by the Soviet state. After this ideological compromise ("socialism in one country"), Stalin's alliance with Hitler was a detail. After all, when one's country is a fortress of good surrounded by a world of evil, any compromise is justified, and none is worse than any other. …
The immediate losers were the Poles and the Baltic states in which both powers massacred intellectuals, political leaders, and, only sometimes as yet, Jews. Western Europe fell to the Nazi onslaught, but Britain held on. The logic of Hitler's vision led to invading his Soviet ally:
… Hitler intended to use the Soviet Union to solve his British problem, not in its present capacity as an ally but in its future capacity as a colony. … Germans would deport, kill, assimilate, or enslave the native populations, and bring order and prosperity to a humbled frontier. Depending upon the demographic estimates, between thirty-one and forty-five million people, mostly Slavs, were to disappear. In one redaction, eighty to eighty-five percent of the Poles, sixty-five percent of the west Ukrainians, seventy-five percent of the Belarusians, and fifty percent of the Czechs were to be eliminated.

… so long as Britain did not fall, Hitler's only relevant vision of empire was the conquest of further territory in eastern Europe. The same held for Hitler's intention to rid Europe of Jews: so long as Britain remained in the war, Jews would have to be eliminated on the European continent, rather than on some distant island such as Madagascar. … if Germany conquered the Soviet Union, it could use Soviet territories as it pleased. Hitler had just ordered preparations for the Soviet invasion when he proclaimed to a large crowd at the Berlin Sportpalast in January 1941 that a world war would mean that "the role ofJewry would be finished in Europe." The Final Solution would not follow the invasion of Britain, plans for which were indefinitely postponed. It would follow the invasion of the Soviet Union on 22 June 941. The first major shooting actions would take place in occupied Soviet Ukraine.
And so the worst era of Nazi mass murders began. Here's Snyder's summary of what German invasion meant in Belarus:
Of the nine million people who were on the territory of Soviet Belarus in 1941, some 1.6 million were killed by the Germans in actions away from battlefields, including about 700,000 prisoners of war, 500,000 Jews, and 320,000 people counted as partisans (the vast majority of whom were unarmed civilians). … Another several hundred thousand inhabitants of Soviet Belarus were killed in action as soldiers of the Red Army. … A rough estimate of two million total mortal losses on the territory of present-day Belarus during the Second World War seems reasonable and conservative. More than a million other people fled the Germans, and another two million were deported as forced labor or removed from their original residence for another reason. Beginning in 1944, the Soviets deported a quarter million more people to Poland and tens of thousands more to the Gulag. By the end of the war, half the population of Belarus had either been killed or moved. This cannot be said of any other European country.
That's what Snyder means by "bloodlands." The "bloodlands" were as well where most of the "Final Solution," the extermination of European Jews, was carried out.
About 5.4 million Jews died under German occupation. Nearly half of them were murdered east of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, usually by bullets, sometimes by gas. The rest perished west of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, usually by gas, sometimes by bullets. East of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, a million Jews were killed in the second half of 1941, in the first six months of the German occupation. Another million were killed in 1942. West of the Molotov-Ribbentrop line, Jews came under German control significantly earlier, but were killed later. …

The mass murder of Polish Jews in the General Government and in Polish lands annexed to Germany was initiated after more than two years of German. occupation, and more than a year after Jews had been consigned to ghettos. These Polish Jews were gassed at six major facilities, four in the General Government and two in the lands annexed to the Reich, functioning in one combination or another from December 1941 through November 1944: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobib6r, Treblinka, Majdanek, Auschwitz. The core of the killing campaign west of the Molotov- Ribbentrop line was Operation Reinhard, the gassing of 1.3 million Polish Jews at Belzec, Sobib6r, and Treblinka in 1942. Its last chapter was Auschwitz, where about two hundred thousand Polish Jews and more than seven hundred thousand other European Jews were gassed, most of them in 1943 and 1944.
After terrible suffering, the Soviet Red Army carried the fight through the bloodlands and into Germany itself, enabling the Allies to redraw the map of Europe and leaving the Soviet Union with a vast area of compliant satellite states where its hegemony lasted until 1989. In the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union during the long Cold War (1948-1989), on both sides understandings of the history of the terrible Stalinist and Nazi period became distorted. In particular, Stalin developed a paranoid fear of surviving European Jews who he viewed as conspiratorial internationalists might break the intellectual wall between western capitalist degeneracy and his socialist republics.
Stalinist anti-Semitism in Moscow, Prague, and Warsaw killed only a handful of people, but it confused the European past. The Holocaust complicated the Stalinist story of the suffering of Soviet citizens as such, and displaced Russians and Slavs as the most victimized of groups. It was the communists and their loyal Slavic (and other) followers who were to be understood as both the victors and the victims of the Second World War. The scheme of Slavic innocence and Western aggression was to be applied to the Cold War as well, even if this meant that Jews, associated with Israel and America in the imperialist Western camp, were to be regarded as the aggressors of history.

So long as communists governed most of Europe, the Holocaust could never be seen for what it was. Precisely because so many millions of non-Jewish east Europeans had indeed been killed on the battlefields, in the Dulags and Stalags, in besieged cities, and in reprisals in the villages and the countryside, the communist emphasis upon non-Jewish suffering always had a historical foundation. Communist leaders, beginning with Stalin and continuing to the end, could rightly say that few people in the West appreciated the role of the Red Army in the defeat of the Wehrmacht, and the suffering that the peoples of eastern Europe endured under German occupation. It took just one modification, the submersion of the Holocaust into a generic account of suffering, to externalize that which had once been so central to eastern Europe, Jewish civilization. During the Cold War, the natural response in the West was to emphasize the enormous suffering that Stalinism had brought to the citizens of the Soviet Union. This, too, was true; but like the Soviet accounts it was not the only truth, or the whole truth. In this competition for memory, the Holocaust, the other German mass killing policies, and the Stalinist mass murders became three different histories, even though in historical fact they shared a place and time.

Like the vast majority of the mass killing of civilians by both the Nazi and the Soviet regimes, the Holocaust took place in the bloodlands. After the war, the traditional homelands of European Jewry lay in the communist world, as did the death factories and the killing fields. By introducing a new kind of anti-Semitism into the world, Stalin made of the Holocaust something less than it was. When an international collective memory of the Holocaust emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, it rested on the experiences of German and west European Jews, minor groups of victims, and on Auschwitz, where only about one in six of the total number of murdered Jews died. Historians and commemorators in western Europe and the United States tended to correct that Stalinist distortion by erring in the other direction, by passing quickly over the nearly five million Jews killed east of Auschwitz, and the nearly five million non-Jews killed by the Nazis. Deprived of its Jewish distinctiveness in the East, and stripped of its geography in the West, the Holocaust never quite became part of European history, even as Europeans and many others came to agree that all should remember the Holocaust.
This long set of quotations doesn't begin to do justice to what Professor Snyder has done in this book. The histories of Nazi Germany by Richard J. Evans about which I've written recently achieve their power through dispassionate piling up of evidence of crimes and barbarism. Snyder is passionate. He weaves particular human stories into a grand narrative. For him, clearly writing the history of mass murder is a necessary moral activity. Much of academia repudiates this kind of engagement. I think it what history ought to be. Let the pedants quibble -- this forces me to think and feel.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Solitary confinement is torture: California prisoners ready to die ...

Thirty thousand have begun refusing meals; a core group locked in long term solitary confinement is ready to die to win demands that amount to simple reforms in abusive conditions.

Watch the video and listen to the prisoners, their relatives and friends.

Or, if you prefer, listen to John McCain:
“It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his five and a half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam -- more than two years of it spent in isolation in a fifteen-by-fifteen-foot cell, unable to communicate with other P.O.W.s except by tap code, secreted notes, or by speaking into an enamel cup pressed against the wall. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.” And this comes from a man who was beaten regularly; denied adequate medical treatment for two broken arms, a broken leg, and chronic dysentery; and tortured to the point of having an arm broken again.
The quotation is from a New Yorker article by Dr. Atul Gawande in which he thoughtfully explored US penal practices.
... The main argument for using long-term isolation in prisons is that it provides discipline and prevents violence. When inmates refuse to follow the rules -- when they escape, deal drugs, or attack other inmates and corrections officers -- wardens must be able to punish and contain the misconduct. Presumably, less stringent measures haven’t worked, or the behavior would not have occurred. And it’s legitimate to incapacitate violent aggressors for the safety of others. So, advocates say, isolation is a necessary evil, and those who don’t recognize this are dangerously naive.

The argument makes intuitive sense. If the worst of the worst are removed from the general prison population and put in isolation, you’d expect there to be markedly fewer inmate shankings and attacks on corrections officers. But the evidence doesn’t bear this out. Perhaps the most careful inquiry into whether supermax prisons decrease violence and disorder was a 2003 analysis examining the experience in three states --Arizona, Illinois, and Minnesota -- following the opening of their supermax prisons. The study found that levels of inmate-on-inmate violence were unchanged, and that levels of inmate-on-staff violence changed unpredictably, rising in Arizona, falling in Illinois, and holding steady in Minnesota.

Prison violence, it turns out, is not simply an issue of a few belligerents. In the past thirty years, the United States has quadrupled its incarceration rate but not its prison space. Work and education programs have been cancelled, out of a belief that the pursuit of rehabilitation is pointless. The result has been unprecedented overcrowding, along with unprecedented idleness -- a nice formula for violence. Remove a few prisoners to solitary confinement, and the violence doesn’t change. So you remove some more, and still nothing happens. Before long, you find yourself in the position we are in today. The United States now has five per cent of the world’s population, twenty-five per cent of its prisoners, and probably the vast majority of prisoners who are in long-term solitary confinement.
California is a gross offender when it comes to prison overcrowding. That's not just my opinion. As recently as June, federal judges ordered the state to stop "foot dragging" in the face of orders to reduce prisoner populations and threatened the governor with contempt. But California authorities continue to insist that if they just stick enough inmates in the SHU (solitary lockdown), they can solve their discipline problems and ensure prisoner and guard safety.

Gawande writes that prisons could be organized so that solitary confinement was not the go-to response to problems.
Consider what other countries do. Britain, for example, has had its share of serial killers, homicidal rapists, and prisoners who have taken hostages and repeatedly assaulted staff. The British also fought a seemingly unending war in Northern Ireland, which brought them hundreds of Irish Republican Army prisoners committed to violent resistance. The authorities resorted to a harshly punitive approach to control, including, in the mid-seventies, extensive use of solitary confinement. But the violence in prisons remained unchanged, the costs were phenomenal (in the United States, they reach more than fifty thousand dollars a year per inmate), and the public outcry became intolerable. British authorities therefore looked for another approach.

Beginning in the nineteen-eighties, they gradually adopted a strategy that focused on preventing prison violence rather than on delivering an ever more brutal series of punishments for it. The approach starts with the simple observation that prisoners who are unmanageable in one setting often behave perfectly reasonably in another. This suggested that violence might, to a critical extent, be a function of the conditions of incarceration. The British noticed that problem prisoners were usually people for whom avoiding humiliation and saving face were fundamental and instinctive. When conditions maximized humiliation and confrontation, every interaction escalated into a trial of strength. Violence became a predictable consequence.

So the British decided to give their most dangerous prisoners more control, rather than less. They reduced isolation and offered them opportunities for work, education, and special programming to increase social ties and skills. The prisoners were housed in small, stable units of fewer than ten people in individual cells, to avoid conditions of social chaos and unpredictability. In these reformed “Close Supervision Centres,” prisoners could receive mental-health treatment and earn rights for more exercise, more phone calls, “contact visits,” and even access to cooking facilities. They were allowed to air grievances. And the government set up an independent body of inspectors to track the results and enable adjustments based on the data.

The results have been impressive. The use of long-term isolation in England is now negligible. In all of England, there are now fewer prisoners in “extreme custody” than there are in the state of Maine. And the other countries of Europe have, with a similar focus on small units and violence prevention, achieved a similar outcome.

... The simple truth is that public sentiment in America is the reason that solitary confinement has exploded in this country, even as other Western nations have taken steps to reduce it. This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. With little concern or demurral, we have consigned tens of thousands of our own citizens to conditions that horrified our highest court a century ago. ...
Maybe prisoners willing to put their lives on the line non-violently can bring this state to its senses. Nothing else has.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Immigration reform: "We’re in the defibrillation stage"

Immigration Reform Has No Pulse
The key moment came when Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — the leading Democratic author of the Senate’s immigration bill — laid things out for House Speaker John Boehner.

“Without a path to citizenship, there is not going to be a bill,” he said. “There can’t be a bill.”

Brian Beutler, TPM

And that's something Republicans in the House will refuse to offer. The charade will probably go on for awhile, but we are not likely to see immigration reform out of this Congress.

Warming Wednesdays: yes, we CAN work toward sustainability

My friend Brendan is a fisherman. He's also a successful blue-green entrepreneur whose Kickstarter campaign to grow his business has blasted over his first goal. Not that he couldn't use some more help!

Here's the rationale:

As lifelong commercial fishermen, we know our oceans are in trouble. Overfishing has wiped out 90% of large fish; climate change is driving everything from lobsters to whales northward; nitrogen pollution is triggering ever-expanding dead zones.

... Restoring Our Oceans: Two years ago while out on the boat, a light bulb went off: We realized that millions of years ago, Mother Nature invented two species - kelp and shellfish - designed to restore ocean ecosystems and mitigate climate change. And these are two species we can grow! Here's how our 3D model is a game-changer:

Climate Change: Carbon is a root cause of acidification, rising water temps and other climate-related threats to our oceans. The kelp we grow -- known as the “rainforest of the sea” -- absorbs five times more carbon than land-based plants. Our 20 acre farm alone has the potential to remove 134 tons of carbon a year. So we're not just fishermen - we're climate farmers. ...

If we beat our $30,000 goal [they have!] and raise $50,000 we will create an educational program to train the next generation of 3D ocean farmers. Then we'll take our model on the road, as a catalyst for the creation of a network of local ocean farms, growing food-fuel-fertilizer while reducing carbon emissions and restoring our ocean ecosystems. Imagine seaweed and shellfish integrated into wind farms, fish plants re-opened to process restorative food and coal plants re-purposed to process kelp biofuel.

Enjoy the video!

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Consumate musician gone

The Gloucester Times (Mass.) reports that Stephen Scotti has died. The article quotes one of his friends:

”He would come over to tune our piano, and he would give us a concert for two hours and in between he’d tighten a couple of strings — and I didn’t care if he tuned anything,” said Gilson. “We’d have a houseful of people here listening by the time he finished.”

I met Scotti only once, in circumstances rather like that. He was a guest at a cast party after a rural theater performance. He simply sat down at the piano and entertained and engaged a diverse set of party goers for two unforgettable hours. It was a privilege to have been in a room with this artist of entertainment, even once.

Selling off the 'hood: formula retail comes to Valencia Corridor

Over on the waterfront, San Francisco has turned over some of its loveliest vistas to Larry Ellison's Americas Cup and its sponsor for the prelims, the haute couture purveyor, Louis Vuitton. Get the picture from SF Mike.

Out here in one of San Francisco's lower rent districts, the Mission-Valencia corridor, there's a pushback building against intrusion by a more downscale, though certainly not cheap, cookie-cutter fashion emporium. About 25 percent of the store fronts on Valencia between 24th and 14th Streets are displaying this sign.

Naturally I was curious. I never heard of Jack Spade but fortunately, there is Google. This seems to be yet another hipster clothing store -- think $75 for what looks like a quite ordinary T-shirt.

The arrival of Jack Spade in the neighborhood is a symptom of the area's new status. You know you are in trouble when USAToday crows:

... today's Mission is heaving with solvent hipsters and the quirky shops which attract them. …

So long as the hipsters stay on Valencia, the influx works okay. The older shops see new customers drawn by the proliferation of new ethnic and locivore restaurants. (Isn't it amazing the mark-ups entrepreneurs can get on good peasant food?) If the hipster newcomers wander a block east to Mission, they may encounter some characters and scenes whose lives are a gritty challenge to theirs. But hey, most of us in the area came from somewhere else at some time.

If my research on the Jack Spade store that has evicted Adobe Books from its location on 16th had been limited to Google, I'd have just thought -- here comes another one. But the stores posting the signs led me to a more complicated story.

Apparently Jack Spade is formula retail -- a Liz Claiborne Inc. brand. San Francisco doesn't want to turn into a quaint shopping mall for national brands, so we have a law that is supposed to limit such incursions by subjecting chain stores to a public hearing process. But this Claiborne brand has exploited a quirk in how the law is written to avoid having to deal with the neighborhood. Hearings are only required when a chain has 10 or more stores in the US. Jack Spade has 10 domestic and 3 international locations -- so no planning process required. Uptown Almanac reports that Jack Spade has refused to meet with neighborhood merchants and organizations.

If you are bothered by the arrival of cookie-cutter retail in the 'hood, you can sign the local merchants' petition here.

UPDATE: Score one for existing neighborhood merchants. The tortuous city appeal process yielded a vote against Jack Spade and the Claiborne company gave up. For now.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Egypt events show off our vile racist trolls

There is something about the military coup in Egypt and the ongoing travails of that country that brings out whatever racist and Islamophobic filth lurks in the recesses of what passes for minds among United States right-wingers.

Here's the Wall Street Journal:
Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.
My emphasis. Apparently the Journal is enthusiastic about torturing military thugs. The Chilean "transition" only came after Pinochet had held dictatorial power for 17 years and finally, to his surprise, found himself on the wrong end of a sham national vote he expected to win. Even the military was tired of him and democracy was very slowly rebuilt. (The Journal article is behind a paywall, so I've linked to a commentator far more knowledgeable than I who quotes the statement.)

Meanwhile, in the New York Times the conservative columnist David Brooks seized on the occasion of the Egyptian coup to express his essential contempt for the capacity of brown people, Arab people, who adhere to a "foreign" religion.
… Islamists might be determined enough to run effective opposition movements and committed enough to provide street-level social services. But they lack the mental equipment to govern.

… incompetence is built into the intellectual DNA of radical Islam.

.. It’s not that Egypt doesn’t have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients.
Mr. Brooks sure doesn't convince me with this tripe that he has particular brains or powers of observation -- all he seems to have is bigotry about an ancient nation whose citizens are struggling messily toward their own system.

I don't pretend to much idea what is going on in Egypt. But I do know that citizens of this country forget our own history if we demand that other people who are just trying to get a free country off the ground after a long siege of foreign rule and oppression will pull this off without some bumpy bits. Consider this trajectory:
  • a rebellious people forms a new representative government and within a decade finds that internal disagreements and populist risings in the countryside have rendered it unworkable;
  • the elected powers-that-be call for a meeting to reform that government structure, but some radical intellectuals secretly plot to replace the existing structure with an entirely new governing arrangement;
  • those plotters persuade a retired general to lend his presence to the secretive convening and emerge with an entirely new document;
  • once that document is ratified, the general becomes the country's new head of state.
Yes -- that's a plausible rendering of the history of the adoption of the United States Constitution. (More on this process here.) The more established countries of the world almost certainly thought they were observing a hopeless muddle that was certain to collapse of its own incompetence soon enough.

Getting a new country off the ground is hard, dicey work. Racist foreign pundits reveal their ugly ignorance when they try to make sense of events through the lens of their fetid prejudices.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Spooks muddling lethally forward

Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars focuses on the role of elite U.S. military killers in the unit called Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in carrying out directives to kill persons designated enemies by our government in countries where we are not formally at war. The link goes to an introduction to the movie of the same name; I'll likely get to the book in the fall.

Concurrently, New York Times "national security" correspondent Mark Mazzetti is out with The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth. This book chronicles the spook agency's evolution after 9/11 from intelligence collection (now parceled out to the NSA) and into the drone and assassination business in countries where the US military is not operating. The book struck me as a worthy follow up to Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA which came out in 2008.

Mazzetti clearly has terrific sources, many named, some undoubtedly unnamed. I had to wonder whether they were all telling him the truth so close in time to the events described, but he's a sharp reporter so I am confident he wondered too.

The CIA, as Mazzetti recounts, transformed itself after the Senate investigation by the Church Committee in the mid 1970s. It taught its agents that their job was acquiring information, not instigating coups and assassinations. Sure, there were still cowboys in Special Operations, but the institution saw itself as reining in the crazies, not encouraging them. Clandestine operations were unprofessional boondoggles for secretive semi-rogue groups like Colonel Oliver North's National Security Council staff during the Reagan administration. The CIA was about intelligence and building world-spanning relationships with foreign spy networks.

After 9/11 the agency's bosses in the Bush administration wanted something different: operational capacity to chase, capture, interrogate (and torture), and kill persons designated as terrorists, anywhere in the world. This was not a simple transition for men and women who had prided themselves on their expertise in a very different field. Even before 9/11, they'd been asked to take charge of a Predator drone program aimed at Bin Laden in Afghanistan. This might sunder carefully nurtured relationships with the Pakistani secret service. They were being asked to become a paramilitary outfit and it didn't seem an easy fit.

[James] Pavitt, head of the CIA's clandestine service, was a one-man Greek chorus arguing forcefully against the CIA running the Predator program. He wanted to spend his black budget on hiring more case officers, not buying drones. …But he also voiced a much deeper concern, one shared by other members of [Director George] Tenet's staff. What exactly were the repercussions of the CIA getting back into assassinations? "You can't underestimate the cultural change that comes with gaining lethal authority," said John McLaughlin, then the CIA's deputy director [and in 2004, Acting Director]. "When people say to me, 'It's not a big deal,' I say to them, 'Have you ever killed anyone?'" he said. "It is a big deal. You start thinking about things differently."

Change they did, but there was nothing smooth about that evolution -- the kinks in the process seem to me to be reason that Mazzetti has sources for his story.

What did I learn from this book? That the people who killed and tortured in our name during the last decade -- this decade too, for all I know -- certainly don't deserve the moniker "intelligence community." There was darn little "community" about the early phases of the "war on terror." Much of how operations were carried on was determined by interagency bureaucratic bickering among spooks, the military, the State Department and the political authorities. Everyone was protecting their budgets, striving for institutional autonomy, covering their asses in case something went wrong or was later judged illegal. The result was seldom "intelligent" in the common sense meaning of the term (and witnesses were there to spill their stories to Mazzetti .)

This might come as a surprise to most everyone who has been part of the process of creating the United States' current array of lethal spook outfits -- the CIA, JSOC, NSA, etc. -- but what I learned from reading about how these institutions assumed their current form is that the "war on terror" simply is not an existential threat to this country. Yes, terrorists, domestic and foreign, can kill and cause terrible damage if they manage to pull off their dramatic stunts. But the scale of the threat remains puny unless somebody gets hold of a nuke -- and that's hard to do. The "war on terror" is mostly a deadly sham, propped up by threat inflation for consumption at home and the drive to demonstrate imperial resolve around the world.

If this country were confronted by a real existential threat, we wouldn't put up for over a decade with the bureaucratic castle-building that Mazzetti documents. Heads would roll, fantasists would be ousted, and real threats would be eliminated if possible and evaded if necessary.

Come to think of it, we do face a real threat existential threat -- global warming. The smarter factions of our military and "intelligence" analysts know this. When we see our political authorities turn our "intelligence" apparatus to that direction, we'll know we're regaining some equilibrium, some realism about real threats.

In the meantime, here's to Mazzetti for chronicling the post-9/11 muddle.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

San Francisco trivia: Ceasar Chavez ahoy!

Once upon a time -- that is when I had just moved to San Francisco in 1972 -- there was a messy, extended hole in the ground amid swaths of highway construction equipment and debris, that we were told was going to become the Army Street interchange off Highway 101, the main freeway through town. Another, then still newish, freeway -- Interstate 280 -- arrived from the south and ran through the adjacent area, leading nowhere but some empty lots southeast of downtown. It still goes nowhere much, but the nowhere much has gotten built out in recent years and is now called Mission Bay.

For years, as construction of the Army Street exit went on, there would be occasional newspaper articles about what gargantuan quantities concrete and steel were being poured into its construction. In 1974 some "hippies" (that means artists) started an urban agriculture and cultural hub, "The Farm," on the north side of it. The Farm endured in various forms through the mid-80s. The interchange may have finally opened the same year or perhaps a bit later. It served as the conduit for trucks bearing produce and materials to markets and industrial enterprises along the Bay. It had needed all that weighty steel as the tonnage coming through was significant.

After farmworker labor leader Cesar E. Chavez died in 1993, Latino and union activists campaigned to get Army Street, one of the broadest arteries through the Mission District, named after him. The move was controversial -- the "Army Street" name had neighborhood defenders. We even had to vote on a ballot measure to undo the change; "Cesar Chavez" won in 1995.

Then Caltrans -- the state's highway authority -- dug in its heels and refused to change the signs on Route 101 unless the city came up with $880,000 for the work. That wasn't happening, even in the relatively flush '90s, so we lived with contradictory signs for awhile until some accommodation was agreed on.

But for the last decade, "Cesar Chavez Street" has run uncontroversially between the Bernal and Mission neighborhoods and uphill into Noe Valley. (Yes, from the perspective of a Mission dweller, the Noe Valley is uphill.)

Under the enduring monster freeway interchange, homeless encampments come -- and are periodically swept away in police crackdowns. Day laborers wait for work on Cesar Chavez Street. The road is currently getting some overdue repaving and re-striping. For months it has been home to earth movers, barriers and occasional detours.

With all that history, you might think that Caltrans would have figured out how to spell to the name of the thoroughfare, but you'd be wrong. For the last week, we've been greeted by this flashing sign:
Hint to Caltrans: this is not about a salad or an emperor (even if misspelled), but the state's most prominent Latino labor leader …