Sunday, August 31, 2014

Evidence this is a strange country

These gents don't seem to have heard of skin cancer.

End of summer ritual?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday scenes and scenery: Martha's Vineyard, August 2014

A reporter for the Martha's Vineyard Times, a local weekly, was both tickled and a little bored to be included among the press pool during President Obama's vacation on the island. He found the national journalists had a very superficial sense of his home turf.

The Times took an informal poll to see if these journalists, who are some of the best in the world at unearthing the truth, still saw the Island as an “affluent, exclusive enclave,” as so many of them describe it, after spending some time here.

The unanimous response was, “Yes.” They were informed that locals bristle at these descriptions, that the average wage on the Island is 70 percent of the state average, that there’s a critical shortage of affordable housing, and that many Islanders are barely making ends meet. ...

Those reporters would have their misconceptions reinforced if they encountered scenes like this. The sign marks the end of a town beach which is open for an affordable charge to town residents, their tenants, and guests. That sandy expanse is private property. There are many such off-limits spaces on the island.

The beach at Aquinnah, under the national landmark red clay cliffs, is open to the public. The Wampanoag tribe charges a $15 parking fee in the summer, but if you can walk a short distance, the wide sands and surf are yours -- even without a bathing suit.

Up on the cliffs, the historic Gay Head Lighthouse, recently transferred out of federal ownership to the Martha's Vineyard Museum, was opened to visitors this summer. This was the first time in my many visits that I was allowed to climb the metal circular stairs to the level of the revolving light. Proximity to the great lens is awe-inspiring. Once upon a time, a light house keeper had to check on it every few hours. We have better generators these days.

The lighthouse is endangered. The cliffs are eroding. If it is to survive, it must be moved in the next few years before too much land crumbles. Fundraising goes on apace.

This local resident is probably not endangered, by tourists or property owners.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Do our policy makers know what they are getting into?

New Yorker writer George Packer was "just barely" pro-war about George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq. Then he reported directly from the U.S. adventure on the Euphrates and rapidly came to regret his early enthusiasm.

He worries about current moves toward further U.S. engagement in Iraq and Syria occasioned by the military successes of the terrorist Sunni Muslim group ISIS, AKA the "Islamic Caliphate." He has assembled an excellent list of questions that U.S. leaders need to answer before blundering further into that maelstrom:

Too much of August’s sound and fury over ISIS is taking place in a vacuum of knowing and thinking ahead. Here are a few of the questions that any serious policymaker should address:

  • What kind of short- and long-term threats do ISIS militants pose to the U.S.? What are their capabilities and intentions? Between Obama’s “jayvee team” remark to Remnick, in January, and Chuck Hagel’s “beyond anything we have seen” comment last week, where does the truth lie?
  • What can air strikes against ISIS positions in Syria achieve without coördination with ground troops?
  • Are there any Syrian rebel groups that are still capable of functioning like the Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi special forces in northern Iraq, as ground troops that can take positions abandoned by ISIS under U.S. air strikes?
  • When we talk about remaining “moderate” rebels, who are they, who are their leaders, what are their interests and loyalties, what is their fighting condition?
  • If Haider al-Abadi becomes the next Prime Minister of Iraq, what can he be offered in exchange for a pledge to end government support for the Shia militias that have alienated Iraqi Sunnis and created a base of popular support for ISIS?
  • How extensive is support among Iraqi Sunnis for the anti-ISIS uprising of leading sheikhs in Anbar province? Can American air power be brought to bear in conjunction with their efforts without strengthening ISIS? How much support would the Saudis offer in Anbar?
  • How can Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and the Emirates be brought into a loose coalition against ISIS?
  • Is Iran willing to discuss a post-Assad government in Syria as part of a larger negotiation over coördinating strategies with the U.S. to destroy ISIS, the common enemy? If not, is there any ground for American-Iranian coöperation in the fight against ISIS?
  • Can Iran play any part without alienating the Gulf countries?
  • What is the larger American strategy to contain and defeat ISIS? What are its military, political, diplomatic, economic, and cultural aspects?

I have added emphasis to the items I consider the bare minimum about which the people of the United States should demand answers as our leaders drift toward a wider war. Vox provides a set of useful refutations of common myths about ISIS, in case you are looking for more food for thought.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tim Wu for NYS Lite Gov: democracy at work

Wow! Wow again! The New York Times has endorsed Tim Wu for Lieutenant Governor of New York State.

Wu is the inventor of the term "net neutrality" and the author of the essential book on the history of communications and democracy in the United States which I discussed here.

Lieutenant Governor isn't much of an office and it is very unlikely that Wu will win the Democratic primary against Gov. Andrew Cuomo's hand-picked conservative running mate, Kathy Hochul.

Still the endorsement says a lot about how politics proceeds in one-party Democratic states -- all the large, urban ones. Within the Democratic party, you have the money party -- our very own rich people. And then there are the more populist Democratic constituencies -- various, not always compatible, communities of color, most single women of many communal identities, and the educated young, regardless of race or gender. In one-party states, these groups duke it out for control of the party and political positions. The money party often has more unity than the contending populist fragments, but when the latter get together, they have the votes.

In one-party Democratic states, if this contest isn't happening, democracy is in trouble. Political pulling and hauling -- that maligned "partisanship" -- never goes away. It just changes shape.

Inconsistent narratives of Yazidis and Kurds

This week, the New York Times described the plight of "400,000 Yazidis, who follow an ancient religion with roots in Muslim and Zoroastrian traditions [and] have been forced to flee their enclaves" in Iraqi Kurdistan by ISIS, the violent jihadis also styled the "Islamic State." The break with their longtime Muslim neighbors was violent and traumatic.

“Our Arab neighbors turned on all of us,” said Mr. Habash, who recounted his story from a makeshift refugee camp on the banks of a fetid stream near the city of Zakho, in Iraqi Kurdistan. “We feel betrayed. They were our friends.”

... The extent of the collusion is hard to map. Many Yazidi families interviewed did not have firsthand information of Arab neighbors aiding ISIS. And in some cases, Arabs risked their lives to save persecuted friends.

But amid the chaos, an emotional truth has emerged: ISIS has destroyed the peaceful coexistence that many northern towns once cherished.

Yvo Fitzherbert describes a different Yazidi experience, by way of interviews conducted in Turkey where he lives. Xal İsmail Ferhad, one of the refugees, concurs in horror at betrayal by his long time neighbors.

Throughout our conversation this gentle, openhearted man in his sixties kept on repeating, “I want the world to know what the Arabs did to us.”

But the same man gushes about the generosity of other Kurds (mostly Muslims) who saved many lives. Though the peshmerga -- the troops of the Iraqi Kurdish semi-autonomous government -- were brushed aside by ISIS, Kurdish guerrillas of the YPG (People Defense Unit) and YPJ (Women’s Defense Unit) won an escape corridor for some 100,000 Yezidis marooned on barren Senjar Mountain.

“If the YPG hadn’t come to the mountains, our people wouldn’t have survived. They are our saviours”, Ferhad passionately explained. It was a point Ferhad kept on emphasising, how YPG have won the heart and trust of all Yezîdîs. When asked if he trusted the YPG more than any other forces, specifically the peshmerga, he said, “Of course. We will give all our boys to them. I will go myself... We are the same mentality as the YPG and PKK.”

Fitzherbert describes these forces as thriving in Rojava (literally, ‘Western Kurdistan’) where three cantons have adopted a "grassroots democratic model" as a consequence of a libertarian socialist evolution led by the imprisoned Kurdish guerrilla leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Representatives are made up of Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians, with at least one third of all representatives, female. ...

...From his prison, Öcalan wrote, “the nationalism we should have opposed infested all of us. Even though we opposed it in principle and rhetoric, we nonetheless accepted it as inevitable.”

... Democratic Confederalism, which Öcalan simplifies as essentially “democracy without a state” has already begun to be put into practise in Rojava. It seems that Senjar has now become part of this revolution, and as far as Ferhad is concerned, he hopes it is something which the Yazidis of Senjar will embrace. Whether the US-backed Kurdish Democratic Party like it or not, the guerrillas are there to stay. And they are fighting for a new kind of freedom.

Perhaps from tragedy something wonderful springs. All reads quite rosy, doesn't it?

Reading these two contrasting articles, what I felt was humility. I have almost no idea what is going on in that remote part of the world. I know the fog of war obscures it. I know human beings are suffering. And I also know that, living in a state and a civilization that has played a role in turning these peoples' lives upside down, I should at least try to understand and try to prevent our rulers from making things worse!

I have adopted the New York Times transliteration of the label "Yazidi" and the place "Senjar" to make this post read slightly more coherently. These authors use different spellings.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wanted children -- simple truths

While I applaud the work [organizations and individuals like this friend of mine] that share thoughtful and moving first-person stories about choosing abortion, I think there is another group that needs to speak up, loudly and publicly, about reproductive rights. And that is those of us that were able to fully and freely choose when to become parents.

I am one of those people, and so is my husband. We chose to become parents, but even more importantly, we chose when not to become parents. We chose not to become parents when he was in school and I was unemployed; we chose not to become parents when our relationship was unstable; we chose not to become parents when I was recovering from two surgeries in five months and he was changing jobs; we chose not to become parents when I switched careers. We chose not to become parents over and over for a very long time, even though during that long time we often talked how much we wanted a child.

The reproductive rights movement made it possible for us to not be parents before we were ready. Politics and policies that support contraception, comprehensive health care, and educational opportunities contributed to our ability to become as stable as possible in our own lives and our relationship before taking on the awesome responsibility of raising a child. ...

Sarah Erdreich

I encountered this shortly after reading one of Jonathan Cohn's Q.E.D. emails that explained, once again, why access to affordable birth control underlies the social arrangements we take for granted (and which patriarchal conservatives abhor.)

Many conservatives look at the price of oral contraceptives, available at places like Target or Walmart for as little as $9 a month, and wonder why anybody except the very poor would need help paying for it. But numerous studies have shown that even modest co-payments can reduce use of medications, particularly when you’re talking about less affluent people who must be careful with every dollar they spend.

... [During the 1960s] ... the teen pregnancy rate fell by about 25 percent. What changed? ... The Food and Drug Administration first approved the pill in 1960.

It wasn’t just teenagers on whom the introduction of cheap, highly effective medical contraception had profound effects. It was also older women, including married women, who gained the ability to control the timing of pregnancy and child rearing. It meant these women could have fewer children, if they wanted, and that they could time their child-bearing years in ways that would allow them still to go to school and to go to work.

It is not at all coincidental that, with the suddenly widespread use of birth control, women became much more likely to go through college and graduate school and to be part of the workforce—and, more generally, to make the kind of money that would allow them to be more economically independent

Control of our reproductive capacity is what makes the lives of contemporary women possible. Are we going to let obscurantist flat-earthers turn back the clock? As always, poor women are at risk first.
Kaiser Health News reports it is not only flat-earthers who want to cut women off from using birth control to choose when they have kids.

How much leeway do employers and insurers have in deciding whether they’ll cover contraceptives without charge and in determining which methods make the cut?

Not much, as it turns out, but that hasn’t stopped some from trying.

Kaiser Health News readers still write in regularly describing battles they’re waging to get the birth control coverage they’re entitled to.

In one of those messages recently, a woman said her insurer denied free coverage for the NuvaRing. This small plastic device, which is inserted into the vagina, works for three weeks at a time by releasing hormones similar to those used by birth control pills. She said her insurer told her she would be responsible for her contraceptive expenses unless she chooses an oral generic birth control pill. The NuvaRing costs between $15 and $80 a month, according to Planned Parenthood. ...

More at the link.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Good news headline

If true, shows that the administration has its collective eyes on the job.

The heavens and earth declare the glory ...

After a week of unremitting human horror -- Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Ferguson -- this (best in full screen mode) reminds how small we are.
H/t Bad Astronomy.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

So what do people protesting in Ferguson want?

HuffPo reports that demonstrators have presented demands via three spokespeople. Here the list as shared by the local group Organization for Black Struggle.

Immediate Demands
(These demands are being fine-tuned as the struggle goes on.)

Local Demands
1. Swift and impartial investigation by the Department of Justice into the Michael Brown shooting
2. Immediate arrest of Darren Wilson
3. County Prosecutor Robert McCullough to stand down and allow a Special Prosecutor to be appointed
4. Firing of Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson
5. “Immediate” De-escalation of militarized policing of peaceful protestors
6. Ensure the protection of the rights of people to assemble and peacefully protest
7. Hold law enforcement officers accountable for excessive use of force on peaceful protestors
8. Immediate release of individuals who have participated -- their right assemble and peacefully protest

National Demands
1. Obama to come to Ferguson to meet with the people whose human rights have been violated by aggressive and militarized policing, including the family of the victim – Michael Brown.
2. Eric Holder to use the full resources and power of the Department of Justice to implement a nationwide investigation of systematic police brutality and harassment in black and brown communities
3. Ensure transparency, accountability, and safety of our communities by requiring front facing cameras in police departments with records of racial disparities in stops, arrests, killings, and excessive force complaints
4. Immediate suspension without pay of law enforcement officers that have used or approved excessive use of force. Additionally, their personnel information and policing history should be made available to the public.

Sure, these folks are asking for the moon, but if it takes an ugly broad daylight killing by a cop and two weeks of noisy protests to get any attention, it makes sense to use every bit of your moment of national attention. And if this is not a police state, "transparency, accountabiliy, and safety" are completely reasonable expectations.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday scenes and scenery: signs at the Fair

The Martha's Vineyard Agricultural Fair is a refreshingly low key affair given the island's justified reputation as a vacation playground for the affluent.

Farmers display their prize animals and vegetables. Judges mull the quality of their offerings.

Small children have their own corral.

So do lost people.

Among the judged school childrens' creative projects, there's a proud patriotic statement ...

... displaying a very special selection of stars.

Click on any of the photos to enlarge.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Philosophical ethicist at work

I never thought to characterize my articulate and thoughtful partner as a "bad-ass philosopher" but that's what Richard Marshall calls her in a sparkling interview based on her work Mainstreaming Torture in 3:AM MAGAZINE. You can check it out at the link.

Friday cat blogging

Morty appears wistful in our absence. Or perhaps not. You can't scrute a cat. They are mostly inscrutable.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Even on the island, the cry of people in pain breaks through

Ten days ago I shared some quick pics from a Martha's Vineyard store at which welcome of the Prez and his family melded with merchandising.

In this dreadful of summer of violence, the same store is still at it.

But the other side of the chalkboard carries a demanding message.
There can be no true vacations for Presidents ... perhaps especially for decent black ones.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Count me among the 37 percent!

According to Pew Research, only 37 percent of white people think

the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.”

This indifference (at best) among whites makes me want to yell at some folks "what rock are you living under?" But actually, you don't have to live under a rock in this country to have little idea how people not like yourself really live.

It starts in the schools. Although this is the year when white kids ceased to be a majority of school age children (49 percent and falling), nonetheless

In some parts of the country, black children are now more likely to attend nearly all-black schools than they were in the 1960s. Nationwide, the share of blacks attending majority-white schools has been falling. Data also suggest that the average Hispanic student today attends a school that's majority-Hispanic ...

In most areas, housing remains segregated. Whites with choices (meaning those who are not very poor) simply don't live among large numbers of people of color. Black and brown voting usually lags white electoral participation; white incumbent political leaders can often remain in office even if the demographic composition their jurisdiction changes to a majority of people of color.

Then you get this:
New York Times graphic.

Chris Hedges offers incisive observations from an interview with Lawrence Hamm, founder of the Newark community organization, People's Organization for Progress.

... the declining populations of primarily black cities -- Newark, where he has spent most of his life as an organizer, has seen its population drop from 400,000 to about 250,000 in the last few decades -- coupled with the election of black officials and the integration of blacks into police forces mean that the old centers of rebellion are less polarized.

“These [changes] helped to ameliorate the overt racism and will probably prevent a recurrence of open rebellion in these urban areas...” ... “we have suburbs around Newark [much like the St. Louis suburb] Ferguson that were once white and are now black and that replicate the racial power imbalance. And this is where the tinder will be.”And this is where the tinder will be.”

Being the object of unwarranted deadly force by police officers is part of what it means to be black and poor in America. But, as Hamm said, no matter how much blacks raise their voices against indiscriminate police violence “the killings keep coming.”

Black people, even middle class blacks, already know what it is like to live as suspects under alien authorities -- it is the 63 percent of whites who doubt that we need to understand how the structures of white supremacy continue to crush our fellow citizens that need to have a conversation about race.
Protest sign captured from live video stream of Ferguson protests, August 19.
Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Whither Japan? and some thoughts on accountability

In the hope of musing on something completely unconnected to the horrors of the moment, I've been reading David Pilling's Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival. I know almost nothing about Japan except that Paul Krugman continually holds up the economic stagnation in that nation as a horrible precursor of where we may be going.

After reading Pilling, I can say I've been exposed to a bit more, even if I don't feel exactly enlightened. Pilling, a Brit who worked in Tokyo for the Financial Times from 2002 through 2008, sets out to share aspects of Japanese culture by way of historical data and voluminous interviews with contemporary Japanese leaders, scholars and ordinary citizens. He begins and ends with the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown followed by devastation and some recovery on the country's north sea coast. In between we meet government leaders, technocrats, entrepreneurs and non-profit enthusiasts, all contesting, mostly politely, the future of their country. I found the book fascinating, though sometimes hard to follow.

Perhaps wisely, though to the detriment of incisiveness, Pilling is partial to a familiar journalistic formula: recourse to on-the-one-hand, on-the-other hand story telling. And he hedges his conclusions. Some specimens of his technique, borrowed from James Fallows' review.

“It would be foolish to suggest that rapid aging doesn’t present big challenges.”

“It would be rash to claim that a single event, even one as traumatic as the March 2011 tsunami, could change society overnight.”

“We should be wary, though, of looking only at the surface.”

My personal "on the other hand" to my own critique seems warranted: what foreign observer can make strong pronouncements about a wildly different culture and country without including some cautionary qualifiers? Only a foolish one. David Pilling seems no fool and I appreciated what I learned from this volume.
One historical reality that may prove important for Japan's future is the country's failure to move beyond continuing resentment among people in places victimized by Japanese aggression in the mid-20th century. Quite understandably, Chinese and Koreans easily become aroused at any whiff of Japanese assertiveness. This makes for continued tensions with near-neighbor states and promotes continued Japanese dependence on an unequal alliance with the United States. (Japan was even drawn into committing troops to "humanitarian" missions in our Iraq war.)

Pilling attributes Japan's inability to soften its national image to a combination of its own nationalism, its feeling of victimization as the one people ever subjected to nuclear attack, and U.S. choices after the war. U.S. observers reflexively call out the Japanese for "racism. Pilling emphasizes a particular history.

The Americans' exoneration of the emperor, [scholar John Dower] concluded had turned the issue of 'war responsibility' into a joke. In post-war Germany, by contrast, Nazi leaders, ... had died or been executed. ...In Japan's case there was no such clean break with the past. ... Bureaucrats and politicians who had served during the war continued to play a prominent role after it.

Accountability for Japanese war crimes never took place, so no clean break ever came as far as Japan's critics are concerned.

When I think of the long catalog of crimes committed by my country, even if I limit my thoughts to the last century, I find it nearly impossible to imagine all the accountability we'd have to accept and the amends we ought to make to countries and peoples around the world. In addition to Japan's representing a cautionary story of the limits of bubble-inflated hypercapitalism, it also serves as a cautionary example of what happens when a country fails to face up to the evils of its own past actions. Horrors.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Blogging break today

Back ASAP. Did you ever feel there is just too much to think about?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

You don't get better government from electoral gimmicks

Just about every article about the police shooting of Mike Brown, the protests in Ferguson, MO, and authorities' varieties of inflammatory responses includes a paragraph like this one:

Although about two in three Ferguson residents are black, its mayor and five of its six City Council members are white. Only three of the town’s 53 police officers are black. ... This year, community members voiced anger after the all-white, seven-member school board for the Ferguson-Florissant district pushed aside its black superintendent for unrevealed reasons. That spurred several blacks to run for three board positions up for election, but only one won a seat.

At the Washington Post's political science blog, the Monkey Cage, Brian Schaffner, Wouter Van Erve and Ray LaRaja point out several structural factors in the local political polity (in addition to pervasive racism) that account for this gross under-representation of African-Americans.

Ferguson holds municipal elections in April of odd-numbered years. In doing so, the town is hardly unique. Approximately three-fourths of American municipalities hold their elections in odd years, a Progressive-era reform intended to shield municipal elections from the partisan politics of national contests, but one that has been shown to have a dramatic effect on reducing turnout.

Ferguson also holds nonpartisan elections (where party labels do not appear on the ballot), another Progressive reform, and one that has been shown to reduce both what citizens know about candidates as well as their likelihood of voting. These consequences are worse for people with less education and less income.

The rest of the article goes on to explicate how this works in practice and is shown to ensure racially skewed outcomes. It is worth following the link to see some revealing charts.

But what I want to highlight is that Ferguson's and St. Louis County's peculiarly exclusionary electoral system was the product of a long-past technocratic "reform" that proved to have grossly anti-democratic (small "d") and racially biased consequences.

The Progressives of the early 20th century hoped to root out corruption and partisanship in the fractious democracy of their era. Some of their reforms probably gave a real boost to democracy, most especially direct election of Senators. (Can you imagine that states used to name their senators though a bout of legislative horse trading and corporate bribery? Sure you can.) Other electoral gimmicks were less clearly positive innovations. In addition to off-season elections and excluding party labels from some ballots, we can thank this reform movement for such features of our electoral scene as ballot initiatives and recall elections whose value many might question.

This seems worth raising because California has lately shown its penchant for responding to weak governance with a couple of more modern technocratic electoral gimmicks: the top two primary and in some cities, ranked choice voting. The first too often turns November elections into intra-party contests while excluding smaller parties. The latter usually obscures the clarity of candidates' political positioning in contests run under it. It is simply a fantasy that we'll get "better" elections, "better" candidates, "better" government by messing around with the rules. What makes for better governance is increased citizen engagement and participation -- and circumstances in which somebody can govern.

In fact, both criteria are currently being met in California and the state should be a beacon to the nation in how to recover from our lost decade. Citizen engagement is up because unions and community organizations have mastered the techniques of voter mobilization. This increased participation, particularly in communities of color, has marginalized the sclerotic Republican party, so a Democratic governor can actually govern with a Democratic legislature. One-party dominance may eventually generate its own ills, but for the moment, California democracy is working much better than most states. This didn't result from electoral gimmicks -- it is a consequence of more democracy and an engaged population. Democracy is not preserved or extended by technocratic fixes -- it is preserved and nurtured by people getting in there and mobilizing in elections!
It's not just me pointing out that, in addition to public protest, the people of Ferguson need to organize themselves to vote. Here's Mary Ann McGivern reporting from a neighborhood meeting:

A coalition had already formed that includes the Tauheed Youth Organization, Organization for Black Struggle, New Black Panther Party, Moorish Science Temple, Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, Nation of Islam - Mosque 28, and the Universal African Peoples Organization. The emcee, Zaki Baruti, called on us to join an organization. You can't stand for justice alone, he said. And he and other speakers at many events said, "Vote." Ferguson's white governance would seem evidence that blacks there haven't been voting, and the black St. Louis County Executive just lost a primary race in a nasty fight.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Evidence this is strange country

Not a bad idea. It seems to be coin operated. For all I know these may be common, but I'd never seen one before.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

LGBT employees: what not to ask

DiversityInc -- a website that seems to aspire to give businesses advice on how to manage "diversity" -- has published a list of "6 things not to say to LGBT employees."

I'm feeling snarky, so here's a lifelong lesbian's commentary. I am fortunate in for a very long time not having needed to worry about what an employer thought about my sexuality or gender presentation. The list isn't terrible, but it begs for plain speaking.
  • 1. “Wow. I never would have guessed that you’re [gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender]! The recipient of this remark will either think you are dumb as a post or abysmally rude. Or both.
  • 2. “Is one of you the husband and one the wife? I don’t get it.” I'm going to confess I'm tolerant of this one (if the questioner didn't have power over me.) I almost find it endearing. When people really don't know anything about gay people, I suspect this is what goes on underneath all the other cultural baggage. Better to out with it and then we can learn about each other from there.
  • 3. To a transgender person: “What’s your real name? What did you used to look like?” More rudeness. The person's real name is what they tell you it is. They are who they are. None of your damn business.
  • 4. “Your lifestyle is your business. We don’t need to talk about it here.” This one means that I make the speaker nervous. Get over it.
  • 5. “It’s too bad you’re gay.” "It is too bad you are straight." How do you like that question?
  • 6. “I have a friend who’s [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] that you should meet.” Oh for goodness sake ... that's akin to the question I've sometimes gotten while traveling in far away places: "what's the weather like in the United States?"

    I may, or may not, have something in common with another gay person -- the permutations are close to endless and may or may not have anything to do with our both being gay.
We're just people.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Clinton speaks; many shudder

I've always expected to be lied to by Hillary Clinton while she runs for President. I thought while campaigning she'd tack toward an apparently restrained stance in foreign policy. She'd show a decent respect for avoiding dumb wars that accords with the weariness of the electorate she needs to elect her.

And then she'd revert to her naturally bellicose -- yes, imperial -- instincts. But apparently she is so tone deaf, she just doesn't care. In her recent Atlantic interview with Jeffrey Goldberg she advertises her absolute fealty to Israeli brutality in Gaza:

... what you see on TV is so effectively stage-managed by Hamas, and always has been. ...

... There’s no doubt in my mind that Hamas initiated this conflict ... So the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.

How's that for a heaping serving of Israeli talking points? No major U.S. political figure treats U.S. interests as more important than those of that brutish little apartheid state, but at least they should pretend to while running for office in their own country, don't you think?

Clinton seems to want a new cold (or hot?) war posture toward many adherents of Islam, the religion of two billion people around the world.

... what’s happening in the Middle East right now is because of the breakout capacity of jihadist groups that can affect Europe, can affect the United States. Jihadist groups are governing territory. They will never stay there, though. They are driven to expand. Their raison d'être is to be against the West, against the Crusaders, against the fill-in-the-blank—and we all fit into one of these categories.

How do we try to contain that? I’m thinking a lot about containment, deterrence, and defeat. You know, we did a good job in containing the Soviet Union, but we made a lot of mistakes, we supported really nasty guys, we did some things that we are not particularly proud of, from Latin America to Southeast Asia, but we did have a kind of overarching framework about what we were trying to do that did lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Communism.

Apparently the experience of the last 13 years hasn't quite come through to her: propping up dictatorial kleptocracies and sending the Marines to clomp around in other people's countries makes jihadis instead of subduing them.

The bits of this interview I've pulled out are the same sensational ones that all the pundits are commenting on. There are other bits that seem much more grounded in good sense. You can read them yourself. But there's a reason for the prominence given to the bits many are reacting to -- presumptive Democratic president Hillary Clinton is scaring the hell out of a lot of people. Josh Marshall, no lefty, opines that the interview seems

... to be an effort on Hillary's part today to position herself as the candidate of what might be termed the moderate wing of the neoconservative foreign policy intelligentsia.

This sickening glimpse of what a Clinton presidency would be like does not change my personal stance about the 2016 election. I will work somewhere, somehow, to increase Democratic turnout and hence to elect her; I will not vote for her. As a Californian, I don't have to; the state's electors will not be in play. (I've never voted for DiFi either and am proud of that.)

For the last six years, those of us who oppose military adventures have enjoyed the comfort of knowing we had a president who understood that there were limits to the power of the U.S. empire. Despite some adventurism, this one was at least marginally responsive to the people's overwhelming desire to avoid more dumb wars. In this, Obama has been in tune with a majority of us. Clinton doesn't seem to understand she has to at least pretend to respect majority preferences. And I certainly don't hear in her the mature acquiescence to the realities of the world that is Obama's best feature on his better days. Clinton seems firmly in the "we make our own reality" camp.

I hope progressives can get ourselves geared up to take an active, critical stance toward a president our own constituencies will have a large role in electing. That takes some political sophistication. With Obama, too many advocacy groups held back; the miracle of electing an African-American president meant that the guy got a lot of slack from his own side that any other Democrat would not have enjoyed. Hillary isn't bothering to give us the expected false promises; reciprocally, we don't have to give her any particular deference.

It's good to see MoveOn has responded to the Clinton interview:

Secretary Clinton, and any other person thinking about seeking the Democratic nomination in 2016, should think long and hard before embracing the same policies advocated by right-wing war hawks that got America into Iraq in the first place and helped set the stage for Iraq’s troubles today. These hawkish policy stances are also threatening to undermine the peaceful international resolution of Iran’s nuclear program.

Voters elected President Obama in 2008 to bring the war in Iraq to an end. MoveOn members will continue to stand with elected officials who oppose military escalation that could put us back on a path to endless war.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A vacation paradise -- that year-round residents call home

An Oak Bluffs welcome
Yes, the Prez and family are on Martha's Vineyard. We were stopped in traffic tonight by what seemed to be a 12-car presidential motorcade. But mostly the visit causes little disruption; the first family is doing what most people do here in August: having a good time.

In the summer, a year-round population of about 16,000 swells to 100,000 with all the visitors. The editor of the Martha's Vineyard Times took the occasion of the Obama's visit to remind tourists of what they don't so readily notice:
... if August visitors, including President Obama, members of his coterie, and the visiting media want to take a vacation detour, they could catch a glimpse of the other Martha’s Vineyard, the one more recognizable to the majority of Americans than the celebrity media tripe.

At the offices of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority in Vineyard Haven, executive director David Vigneault could describe the plight of some of the more than 270 people currently on his waitlist for an affordable rental.

In the adjacent office of the Island Housing Trust, executive director Phillip Jordi can describe the challenge to provide homeownership opportunities on an Island where the average median income for homeowners is $64,000 and the median cost of a house is more than $500,000.

More than one waitress or waiter would likely be able to describe what it is like to work several jobs and shuffle between affordable winter and excessive summer rentals just to survive.

Sarah Kuh, director of the Vineyard Health Care Access Programs, could describe the effort to provide quality health care on an island where many people are self-employed. ...

Six Islanders have died of opiate overdose since August 2013, according to Dr. Charles Silberstein, psychiatrist and addiction specialist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Island-wide, there was one heroin arrest in 2012 and 10 heroin arrests in 2013; in 2012 there were 13 arrests for oxycodone and percocet pills, in 2013 there were 15 arrests.

The national political debate about drug policy and punishment has real meaning to Island families affected by this scourge. A day spent in Edgartown District Court speaking to those on the front lines of the battle would provide some perspective. ...
There's at lot more to his catalog of "real life" woes that you can find at the link. I've spent just enough time here at other seasons to be very conscious of what the summer frenzy obscures. Life here is much more complicated and interesting -- and sometimes harsh -- than the pretty beach pictures that visitors take home.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The real purpose of state torture

My partner Rebecca Gordon and I had a quizzical conversation this morning after she read an advance text of an upcoming review of her book Mainstreaming Torture. (It is not yet published; I'll undoubtedly link when it goes up.)

"Why do they say I am 'brave'," she asked. This reviewer is not the only one who has said that. People who know I am the author's partner often tell me she is courageous after she speaks.

That's not hard for me to answer. Having attended about a dozen talks based on the book Mainstreaming Torture, I know why readers describe her with that adjective. When someone, Rebecca, chooses to stare unflinchingly without blinders at what states consider allowable do to designated enemies, the vision hurts. It hurts even if you can be pretty confident you are not, personally, a member of the class of persons a regime considers "torture-able." It should hurt.

Here's a video clip from the Mainstreaming Torture Youtube channel. Yes, the book has such a thing. I think the clip shows why we need courage.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A President on the island

The Prez and his family are vacationing on Martha's Vineyard island. This year, unlike last year, no roads are closed and the security seems low key.

But that hasn't stopped the local purveyors of tourist paraphernalia from hyping the occasion alongside beach balls and t-shirts.

They let their customers know their hopes for the future as well.

The Clintons too have vacationed here.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A simple take on latest U.S. bombing forays

A child's bumper sticker, noted yesterday on Martha's Vineyard. Hope the Prez sees it on his vacation.

No United States military initiative that I can remember has done the people who it ostensibly was intended to help any good. That's a long, stunning record of failures and miscues. Most obviously there were the wars of occupation in Vietnam, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq, but also a slew of smaller scale interventions in Central America, in Haiti, in Libya, in the Balkans ... it's a long list.

Bombing is never a humanitarian act; people and societies are smashed, maimed and die. It bears mentioning that, aside from 9/11, the reality of war is something we've been spared in this country for over 100 years.

So what to make of President Obama's latest intervention in Iraq? The plight of the Yazidis facing massacre on a hot, hungry mountain tears at the heart strings. But as the headline says this morning, White House Fear of ‘Another Benghazi’ Led to Airstrikes. Apparently it's all about us, about the fear that the "barbarians" (Islamic State recruits do seem to merit some such designation) will overrun the little force of U.S. "advisers" and contractors we've dropped in the Kurdish capital.

I can worry about the Yazidis -- and the various sorts of ancient Christians living in pockets of the region. For that matter, I can worry about anyone who is a member of a religious minority in a very intolerant neighborhood. And I am sure that much of what is labeled "religious" violence springs from other conflicts, whether ethnic or over resources. That's where "simple" breaks down.

But I am not so worried about U.S. military professionals; they may be abysmally led, but they volunteered for the job of U.S. power projection. I can't see any enduring interest that requires the U.S. to serve as a Kurdish air force.

I guess I'm one of those who says "It's time to walk away and not look back." About something irrevocable like killing people, simple trumps sophisticated or complicated every time.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Friday cat blogging

Sometimes Maya Pavlova pretends to be a demure little thing.

Don't be fooled. There's lot of lioness in this little feline.

She'd rather not reveal too much to prying humans.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

All politics is local

We're currently in Maine and a lovely state it is.

All the more reason to hope that Mainers succeed in replacing some of their more crackpot politicians this November. Here, from Norman Ornstein, is a National Journal summary of some items from Maine Republicans:

...the Maine Republican Party adopted a platform that called for the abolition of the Federal Reserve, called global warming a myth, and demanded an investigation of "collusion between government and industry" in perpetrating that myth. It also called for resistance to "efforts to create a one world government."

You'd think that might be over the top for a lot of people.

Here's Democratic Senate candidate Shenna Bellows speaking at Netroots Nation; she'd be an upgrade indeed.

Department of small victories

A couple of days ago I started getting the emails from every progressive advocacy outlet around: Walgreens, the big pharmacy chain, was to about to avail itself of a (legal) tax dodge scheme by fictitiously remaking itself into a Swiss company. The omni-present stores weren't going anywhere, just the corporation HQ and the money. Poof, far less U.S. taxes for Walgreens!

Would I boycott if Walgreens went through with the move? Actually, that's not an easy call for me. Walgreens is convenient. But I said "sure" in response to the emails.

Now the same advocacy outfits tell me Walgreens has decided it needs to stay headquartered in the U.S.A. This line from Andrew S Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle is telling:

The company “has ruled out relocating its headquarters from the U.S. for tax purposes ...

“One person close to the matter said Walgreens elected not to pursue an inversion as it calculated that it would face greater scrutiny than others, since it was a consumer facing company,” said the Financial Times.

Consumer agitation and boycotts are particularly well suited to influencing the behavior of companies that spend huge sums aiming to establish brand recognition and brand loyalty. Hurt their precious brand and they hurt.

When used to move brand-invested corporate behavior, boycotts are not just the quixotic gestures of individuals, but authentic campaign tools.

Score one for the consuming public on this round.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Macabre anniversary

On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped one of the two nuclear bombs ever used in war on Hiroshima, Japan. In this clip from John Oliver, we are brought up to date on the US nuclear arsenal.
Funny and true enough to be worth watching for 15 minutes. H/t Time Goes By.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Diner delight

Encountered at Ann & Fran's Kitchen, Yarmouth, Mass.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Ruled by fear

Yesterday an anonymous reader left a comment on my previous post about the Prez' acknowledgement of U.S. torture:

The leaders who had to deal with Fear, had not read Pema Chödrön, thus didn't know how to defeat Fear and did what Fear told them to do:

...the young warrior said, "How can I defeat you?" Fear replied, "My weapons are that I talk fast, and I get very close to your face. Then you get completely unnerved, and you do whatever I say. If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power. You can listen to me, and you can have respect for me. You can even be convinced by me. But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power." In that way, the student warrior learned how to defeat fear.

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Yes. Not easy, but yes.

Two truths our political leaders have forgotten or suppressed, since the 9/11 attacks:
  • Terrorism is not an existential threat to this country. This vast, rich, powerful land cannot be laid low by atrocities, however photogenic and brutal, committed by bands of fanatics.
  • Only we ourselves can undermine this fortunate country. Our systemic alarums -- airport searches and massively intrusive collection of our personal communications -- are security theater, designed to keep us fearful and compliant.
As a wise president insisted in times of far domestic greater peril than these: "we have nothing to fear but fear itself."
We have only to contemplate what the embrace of fear does to Jewish Israeli society to know more deeply our own peril.

What follow are excerpts from a long letter posted at Jewish Voice for Peace by two Dutch-Israeli citizens who, with their children, find themselves "vacationing" in Tel Aviv as the Gaza is blown to pieces and so many Palestinian civilians die and are maimed.

It took us few rather disorienting days here to slowly come to the conclusion that the palpable collective fear is disproportionate to the actual threat.

Government propaganda, lies and deceptions to galvanize support for the war is relentless and the Iron Dome system, the system that intercepts Hamas rockets, is just part of it. An expert opinion according to which the Israeli population is almost 100% safe even without it because of the inferiority of Hamas' weapons and the abundance of shelter infrastructure seemed credible. Deep inside, we believe, everyone knows that the chance something will happen to you here is statistically negligible. It can happen, like the chance of dying in a shocking aviation disaster as what happened this summer to hundreds of Dutch citizens, but it is very unlikely.

One commentator rightly said that Iron Dome functions as the Deus-ex-Machina of this war. Everyone but us is convinced it saves lives. We see it more as a psychological warfare device. Curiously, much of the explosion sound that gets people so worked up here is largely produced by the Iron Dome system itself. ....

... One has to be here to understand fully that the legitimacy of this war is not just manufactured top down by the Israeli government. It is a genuine and widespread social reality. Everyone, even those few hundreds opposing the war, us included, take part daily in its production. Take for instance the dynamic of normal routine interrupted regularly by sirens. In no time, these interruptions themselves became a normal routine. We all got used to the “pending emergency” situation. We are all on an emergency-normality switch mode. People stop cars in the middle of the road to seek shelter in nearby buildings only to go back behind the wheel and honk impatiently at the other drivers as if nothing happened ...

... Authorities, institutions, employers, all heighten security procedures, producing signs, road signs and flyers with instructions on buildings “safe spaces”. Municipalities put on giant billboards with patriotic slogans, one more offensively patriotic than the other. We received a leaflet to parents from the kids’ summer camp advising us on how to maintain “emotional safe spaces” for our children. On TV mainly men talk: brain-dead, repetitive, militaristic tactic-talk. The blogger Idan Landau once aptly called this tsunami of public appearances at times of war zman hagvarim -- "the time of men."  At the same time, the witch hunt of dissenters has reached epidemic proportions, targeting many, and women especially, who dare speak their minds against the war. ...

.. For the vast majority of the country this fear is disproportionate to the actual threat. We described also a climate of threat of violence and violence directed against any form of dissent. In an atmosphere of pending emergency dissent is forbidden and any government action addressing the collective paranoia from the threat of Hamas is seen in a positive light. Needless to say, the government does nothing to curb the climate of violence against dissenters. ...

Do read it all.

I sometimes thank God that I am not an antiwar Israeli living with the crimes of my country -- and then I remember that I am a citizen of the world's leading empire which blithely tromps about the globe committing its own crimes.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The president humiliates himself to defend torture

I can't get past the word "sanctimonious" -- in President Obama's comment that "we tortured some folks." That's what he labelled those of us who think leaders who have ordered and condoned torture and other crimes should be unmasked and prosecuted. A dictionary definition of the word is

making a show of being morally superior to other people.

He is claiming that expecting our leaders and their agents to obey laws is a kind of priggish self-righteousness. Strange conclusion -- I had thought we were supposed to believe that our national "exceptionalism" is rooted in our having established "a government of laws, not of men" as propounded by founder John Adams (and actually incorporated in the Massachusetts state constitution.)

But no. Apparently meaning well is all that should matter. After the 9/11 attacks, we the people were afraid. Leaders and institutions charged with preventing further attacks were not only afraid, but mortally threatened by the danger they might be blamed if further attacks ensued. So ordinary criminal law and solemn international treaties such as the United Nations Convention outlawing torture were treated as dispensable toilet paper by our spooks. We shouldn't blame the spooks: they meant well.

Isn't "I didn't mean it; I had to ..." always the cry of a child who bashes her little brother? President Obama wouldn't accept such an excuse from his children; why should we the people accept such excuses from spooks and even more from cabinet officials and presidents who instigated violations of settled law? We shouldn't.

Full disclosure may not imply that anyone goes to jail, but the perpetrators should no longer be allowed to decide what we know of what they did and perhaps do. C.I.A. leaders in particular should have no role in deciding what we are told. If the President enables concealment of the magnitude of our degradation, he makes himself an accessory to the crime. One suspects he knows and even feels this, which makes his groveling before the spooks that much more humiliating.

Probably Martin Longman is right:

In actuality, it would be dangerous to hold them accountable. ...