Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A tribute to Tom Ammiano

Yesterday we spent time with a man who had worked for the election of the late Harold Washington as mayor of Chicago. Decades later, he was still proud of that work. He maintained that Washington was a politician of unrivaled integrity; he never had to regret that campaign.

San Franciscans have been fortunate for decades to play host to the political career of Tom Ammiano, another of that rare breed. This video is a little longer than most I post, but if you want to see what the evolution of a true champion of decent values in the political arena looks like, do take the time to watch it.
H/t to 48 Hills for the video.

New Orleans has messages for us

We're in New Orleans; Rebecca talks about torture at Loyola University law school today.

Our kind host here, whose neighborhood was under 8 feet of water nine years ago during what locals call "the storm" (Hurricane Katrina) urged me to look at and listen to the good folks at Levees.org. They present a warning to many of us: the kind of flooding we associate with this city could happen in many places.

Fifty five percent (55%) of the U.S. population lives in counties protected by levees. This represents 157 million people.

Not to go all apocalyptic, but this could happen a lot more places than we realize. In California, the Sacramento river delta is at particular risk.

We are told citizen activism has reached new peaks since the storm; in multiple ways, people work to protect communities and to demand that the political structure serve that end.

Climate change probably makes such climate disasters more likely. Just saying ...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Regional commandments

Who says our homogenized consumer culture erases all local variations?

These crop up all over the Pacific Northwest. They are a project of this outfit which seems to hold we can cure all our ills if they place enough of them. Most are far more garish than this from Montana.

Right now we're in New Orleans where this is more the style.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday scenes and scenery: mid-America miscellany

This, from central Illinois, is for my coastal friends laboring under much higher gas prices. Actually, we've seen as low as $2.91. Yes, much of this country could afford to put a price on our carbon pollution!

Mr. Cheeseman is a cheerful feature of central Wisconsin. Gotta like the fellow. He's about 15 feet tall.

We actually ate here outside Indianapolis in the hope that it would be preferable to McD's and Arby's. Don't repeat our mistake.

Who knew the downtown area of Battle Creek, Michigan was so commandingly beautiful? On closer inspection, it seems pretty depressed, but it sure puts up a good front.

Here's another image from Battle Creek.

There's craft beer everywhere, but I can't say I've been bowled over by the quality of any of it. Great labels, though -- this from Wisconsin.

It will perhaps not surprise that this one is from Chicago.

They apparently hold elections for this office in rural Maryland. Slightly frightening idea, though possibly lucrative for the winner.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Who benefits? It is always worth wondering ...

In comments on yesterday's post, Hattie reminded us to ask who benefits from our country's endless wars. Here's a link to good article about contractor profiteering by Dan Froomkin at The Intercept.

And here are some additional direct beneficiaries of U.S. military power projection and the campaign to keep us Very Afraid:
I don't believe that contractor interests (or even control of oil reserves) make up the totality of what drives our persistent military adventures. There's also a nasty stew of prideful national ignorance and atavistic impulses underlying to the drive toward war. But some good old fashioned profiteering sure helps keep the war fires burning brightly.

Friday cat blogging: Carly meets Morty

Carly so wants to play. Don't miss Morty's parting flick of tail.

Thanks to videographer Catherine.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

War hawks crowing

It feels incongruous and sad to be in Washington, DC watching a President elected to end unjustified wars in which there could be no "victory" leaping back into the fray.

We happened to be a captive audience to Obama's speech to the UN, passing a slow morning in the crowded waiting area of a car dealer while our faithful Wowser got her oil changed. Loomed over by CNN's feed, our fellow citizens either followed anxiously, dozed, or tried to ignore the speech.

The Prez was at his serious and idealistic best, calling on the better angels of our human nature to overcome aggression, atrocity and oppression.

The questions remain. To what purpose is this country going abroad to kill demons? How would we know if our efforts had "won"? You can maim and blast humans, but you can't without genocide kill a nationalism or a deeply anchored cultural dream, such as that of a Caliphate. You can "degrade" -- but is that a victory? What kind of victory have you won if you've sowed the seeds of one million resentments and vengeances?

Before and after the speech, the cable talking heads reminded us to be VERY AFRAID of terrorist plots and cells that might have infiltrated "the Homeland." What have you won if you reduce your own people to shivering cowards who spy on each other and bluster for the cameras?

To what purpose are we called to this war?

(The triumphal neo-conservative headline pictured above is still on display in tourist areas of the capital.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Creative disruption in bookselling: a case in point

This almost seems as if it ought to be a "strange country" post. But it is not. The pictured offering of Mainstreaming Torture from Walmart is real.

Improbable as it may seem, Rebecca's book about which she is currently touring is available through Walmart.

That doesn't mean that it is available in the discount retailer's stores. According to marketing experts, the stores carry about 200 titles, all by famous best selling authors. Much as we might hope, Mainstreaming isn't likely to be among them.

But this is apparently a symptom of an emerging struggle between online and big box retailers for our dollars. Even Walmart fears the Amazon "Borg" will eat them. So Walmart has been dipping a toe into online book sales -- Amazon's original turf. In June when Amazon was impeding sales of Hachette titles in a pricing dispute, Walmart emailed blasted its customers, promoting the availability of the books through its channels.

Some commentators think it would be foolish to bet against Walmart.

Unlike Amazon, Wal-Mart has physical locations that it can use to grow its digital brand. The company has plans to do that by using technology to improve the in-store shopping experience. Over 140 million people visit a Wal-mart store each week, so it would be silly for the company to not look to use both platforms to support each other.

Amazon's competitive advantage over Walmart is its unrivaled, hyper-efficient distribution capacity. Walmart aims to improve its own logistic capacity.

For the moment, I can't say Walmart has made itself competitive on this particular Oxford Press title. Its current listed price is about $5 higher that Amazon's and, to the West Coast, Walmart only promises about 7 day shipping at the regular, "value," level.

But clearly there's a retail war brewing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Folly recycled; to what purpose?

So it's begun, the "hot" phase of the United States' Mid-East War 3.0 -- or whatever you want to call our bombing of targets in Syria.

Neither we (the people) nor our leaders can know what this adventure will mean or where the conflict will end.

No war in history has been won by air power. Since what we have is air power, it is hard to believe that. But since Guernica and Dresden, despite "Shock and Awe" in Baghdad and apartment towers imploded in Gaza, bombing campaigns have failed to conquer determined resistance. They can maim, kill and destroy the remnants of civilization, but they do not conquer.

For years now, the U.S. peace movement, such as there is one, has asked the Obama administration, what is the continuing purpose of the endless war in Afghanistan? What is the excuse for killing one more Afghan, one more U.S. soldier? At length, the majority of the people in this country came to ask the same thing.

We ask now, what is the point of fiercely bombing barely understood, shape-shifting, forces in several distant countries? Oh, the chicken hawks and the addled junkies of empire are howling for more blood. But "to what purpose?" is still the right question.

As costs in lives, in treasure, in domestic decay, and in international hatred rise, we can expect the U.S. populace to begin to ask the same question. We are not as stupid all the time as our leaders take us to be.

A statement of the obvious from CREDOaction:

...the United States cannot lead any intervention without making a terrible situation even worse ...

It's probably worth clicking the link to sign their petition, if only to receive more practical alerts as many forces strive to build a domestic political opposition to the latest folly.

War has particular dangers for Democrats. Simply by being out of office in the mid '00s, Democrats became the defacto antiwar party. A generation-worth of the sharpest, most engaged young people were attracted to it as the vehicle for their revulsion at the war. If both parties fully endorse a permanent futile war, expect alienation from the political process to increase. This has happened before -- we got Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Wall Street ascendant, and social collapse out of mass alienation. We've got less margin for error these days.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Evidence that this is a strange country

Somehow I think even the most dedicated fishing fanatic might feel a little queasy at the prospect of using this appliance. But what do I know? Encountered in rural Wisconsin.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bookapalooza and oil roll through midwest

We won't be in New York for the great People's Climate March today. We're in Springfield Illinois where Rebecca is talking about torture at a Unitarian Universalist church.

But it was sure heartening to hear last night that some people were pulling together a local gathering in support of the New York demonstration. There's a movement building when people decide they must have their local manifestation of a faraway protest.

As we roll about the midwest, it has been easy to notice what else is rolling across the fields and through the towns at the same time: great mile long and more strings of oil tankers. Tank car like these, some originally built to hold corn syrup rather than inflammable tar sands oil products from Canada, are everywhere. The one pictured was passing through a densely populated part of Chicago adjacent to Chinatown the day before yesterday.

More and more frequently, the oil trains derail, spill or even blow up. Graphic via this excellent Heather Smith article from Grist.

Forward thinking cities and citizens want to contain this glut of oil products, not only to reduce our contribution to climate devastating carbon pollution, but also to reduce risk of local catastrophe. For example, from Seattle:

"We know they can explode. We've seen the tragedy in Canada. We know they can derail. That happened two months ago in our own city," said Councilmember Mike O'Brien, whose committee scheduled a special meeting Tuesday night to discuss the report. "We have to treat this as a real threat."

Derailments of oil trains have caused explosions in North Dakota, Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma and Quebec, where 47 people were killed when a runaway train exploded in the city of Lac-Megantic in July 2013.

No wonder evidence of a popular drive to control and restrict the oil tranfers is also popping up, with its stark demands.
This is how movements build.
UPDATE: Here's that little Springfield crowd expressing their solidarity with the People's Climate March in front of one of their omnipresent statues of Abraham Lincoln.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday scenes and scenery: central Wisconsin miscellany

We've enjoyed a week at a retreat on Lake Petenwell.

Actually this large body of water is a reservoir, heavily used for boating and fishing. Carp jumped and eagles soared overhead.

The shore is dotted with vacation "camps". We were staying in a couple of what seemed hunting lodges.

On shore, there were farms ...

and industrial scale corn fields ...

and ATV trails that showed a flat lander sensibility. (The "hill" was a gentle 15 foot dip.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Realistic, courageous aging

Dr. Emanuel climbed Kilimanjaro at 57. (I climbed the peak at 55, so there.) Photo grabbed from the article discussed here.

Ezekiel J. Emanuel is an Emanuel -- that is, like his even less appealing brother the mayor of Chicago, he's a bit of a twit, attracting our attention by intentionally stimulating outrage and projecting a know-it-all self-assurance.

But if you can get through the annoying tone of his Atlantic feature article, Why I Hope to Die at 75, there's a lot to ponder here.

Very briefly, Emanuel describes our culture as having succumbed to a pervasive medical and cultural quest for an illusory and false promise of pseudo-immortality.
Since 1960, however, increases in longevity have been achieved mainly by extending the lives of people over 60. Rather than saving more young people, we are stretching out old age.

The American immortal [Emanual's snark label for our conventional aging aspiration] desperately wants to believe in the “compression of morbidity.” Developed in 1980 by James F. Fries, now a professor emeritus of medicine at Stanford, this theory postulates that as we extend our life spans into the 80s and 90s, we will be living healthier lives—more time before we have disabilities, and fewer disabilities overall. ...

Compression of morbidity is a quintessentially American idea. It tells us exactly what we want to believe: that we will live longer lives and then abruptly die with hardly any aches, pains, or physical deterioration—the morbidity traditionally associated with growing old. It promises a kind of fountain of youth until the ever-receding time of death. It is this dream—or fantasy—that drives the American immortal and has fueled interest and investment in regenerative medicine and replacement organs.
He maintains that if we had the courage to look around us, we'd understand that as a society we may be living more years, but would also question whether a medically assisted old age consisting of multiple heart by-passes and poisonous cancer treatments was always worth the extension of a diminished life. The statistical evidence he presents about the declines we can expect after age 75 is persuasive, as is his understanding that almost every one of us wants to cling to the fantasy that we will be the lucky statistical outlier to whom decline does not come. Sure, there are people who live to great old age in comfortable good health and die "good" (quick, painless) deaths. But that will not be most of us. The cultural imperative that we believe in the norm of such a passing reminds me of the belief I've encountered in some communities that if you got cancer, you must have failed somehow, have entertained "bad thoughts."

I found the article particularly interesting on the social consequences of extended longevity in the United States.
Our living too long places real emotional weights on our progeny. ... When parents routinely live to 95, children must caretake into their own retirement. That doesn’t leave them much time on their own—and it is all old age. When parents live to 75, children have had the joys of a rich relationship with their parents, but also have enough time for their own lives, out of their parents’ shadows.
I am extremely aware of this occurring around me because it is one of the experiences I did not share with many of my age peers. Because my parents waited until very late in life to bring me into the world, for good or ill I passed the milestone into "the older generation" with their decease by age 50.

If demographic trends (which Emanuel doesn't cite) continue, the chance to be "the older generation" while we are still close to our primes will become more and more a class-based phenomenon in the future. Educated and professional women in developed societies marry later and have children later than their less privileged age-mates, so their tenure in the "sandwich" role, caring for both the very young and the very old, is likely to be shorter. People who have their kids young at the peak of their fertility (the human norm from which our society is varying) will bear the brunt of longer, more decrepit aging of their parents. Since they are also the most likely to be economically challenged, the prospect is scary for them and their kids.

I sympathize with Emanuel's prescription for elders who choose his way; he'll forego significant, life-extending medical interventions.
At 75 and beyond, I will need a good reason to even visit the doctor and take any medical test or treatment, no matter how routine and painless. And that good reason is not “It will prolong your life.” I will stop getting any regular preventive tests, screenings, or interventions. I will accept only palliative—not curative—treatments if I am suffering pain or other disability.
As it happens, both my parents more or less died this way, not exactly by choice, but because that is how they thought aging proceeded. Your parts wore out; there wasn't much that medicine could do about this inevitable decline; you stumbled on, gradually diminished; eventually you died at home. They made it to 87 and 90 respectively. As far as I could tell, they didn't welcome death, but they imagined no other way and did not resent their fates, though they mostly maintained a will to live to the end.

Despite finding him annoying, I applaud Emanuel for trying to get us to think more realistically about aging. Most of us will be lucky enough to get old. We can do this with more or less realism and courage. I want more.

Friday cat blogging

+Maya Pavlova does soulful ...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Burke takes on Walker in Wisconsin

For a Californian, it has been interesting for the last week to be in a state where a hot gubernatorial election is underway.

Rural central Wisconsin where we've been is incumbent Republican Scott Walker's territory judging by the prevalence of his lawn signs. Evidence of Mary Burke's campaign was much thinner.

Burke is an intriguing Democratic candidate, a business woman taking on the Koch brothers' pet union buster. Her past experience includes doing strategic planning for the Trek Bicycle Corporation (the family firm) and as Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce.

Current polling suggests this Democrat is running close to Walker. But pulling ahead will be tough. Wisconsin is a paradigmatic purple state: along with Pennsylvania and Florida, it is reliably Democratic when everyone votes in presidential years -- then goes Republican with lower turnout in mid-terms. In the last century, the state was the home of the country's most successful Progressive and Socialist parties.

The National Rifle Association, true Walker fans, have just announced they are throwing down $1 million for Walker. If Walker prevails by a significant margin, expect to see him in the 2016 Republican presidential field.

Then again, Mary Burke might just steal this one if Wisconsin Democrats can organize to turn out their voters. Her campaign is here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Boards and bishops behaving badly

I do hate it when I have to be ashamed of the institutional apparatus of my church. And, unhappily, the Episcopal Church has not covered itself in glory in the matter of a priest, the Rev. Bruce Shipman, who got in hot water for pointing out that Israel's atrocious treatment of Palestinians is not free of consequences. The (now former) Yale chaplain dared to state what is obvious to reasonable people. Here's the letter he wrote to the New York Times about an essay on European anti-semitism. It seems to have cost him his job.

Deborah E. Lipstadt makes far too little of the relationship between Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza and growing anti-Semitism in Europe and beyond.

The trend to which she alludes parallels the carnage in Gaza over the last five years, not to mention the perpetually stalled peace talks and the continuing occupation of the West Bank.

As hope for a two-state solution fades and Palestinian casualties continue to mount, the best antidote to anti-Semitism would be for Israel’s patrons abroad to press the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for final-status resolution to the Palestinian question.

The Bishop of Connecticut says Shipman was pushed out by a conflict with a Yale Church board. The story remains a little murky, but that it seems undeniable that Shipman is held to have talked out of turn.

The church should be defending its truth-speakers, not punishing them. Don't I wish ...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

An ambition

I try. But I need a blog day off today.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The old lady is running!

The mainstream media has begun stating the obvious.

Hillary Clinton will be in Iowa on Sunday, and the national press is dispensing with the formalities: She is running for president. No if's, and's or deeply personal decisions about it.

This gives me no thrill. I think she'll be a terrible downgrade on the incumbent and he's been no prize either.

But what's wrong with Hillary Clinton has nothing to do with the fact that she is a visibly aging woman of almost 67. She's earned her wrinkles for goodness sake. I could even wish she were more proud of them. But in any case, a face that she shows some wear and tear strikes me as a qualification for high office, not a cause for censure or ridicule.

The media doesn't play it this way. For over a year I've been collecting images of Hillary that various media outfits choose to emphasize. Do these scare you adequately?

There we have it: the wrinkled bitch and the censorious scold.

The preponderance of these ugly images is not because they are the only ones available.

Hillary could be portrayed as the honorable, experienced public servant.
She likes that one, I imagine.

Or she could be shown as the animated author on book tour.

Over the next few years, I think we owe it to all older women to attend carefully to the pictures the media uses of this annoying candidate and call them out when they are meant to demean her age and experience.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

More dumb war

This blog was born in response to this country's vengeful, foolish, militarized reaction to the atrocity that was the 9/11 attacks. So why have I not even commented on President Obama's pronouncements on IS/ISIS/ISIL made last Wednesday?

I find our current trajectory toward ever more ill-considered and ever less limited war in the Near West inspires as much sadness as outrage. The Prez has occasionally propounded some genuinely sharp policy principles: "no dumb wars" and/or "don't do stupid stuff" come to mind. But we won't allow our leaders the latitude to use what common sense God gave them. The more common sense they allow to leak through the pretensions of office, the more they are punished in their polling ratings when many of us get into a howling jingoistic rage.

Once again, we are allowing ourselves to be stampeded by the clever authors of violent made-for-TV movies. The 9/11 attacks were at least horribly successful theater on a massive scale. Now we are spooked into stupidity by some YouTube videos? Apparently yes.

Timothy Egan nails our national mood.

That’s it in a nutshell: public policy driven by visceral reaction to videos. ... “The world has always been messy,” said Obama, a smart man, making a smart observation to a public that doesn’t reward that trait. “In part we’re just noticing now because of social media and our capacity to see in intimate detail the hardships that people are going through.”

The President hopes to wage "a nuanced war," explains David Corn. The phrase alerts anyone in their senses to trouble ahead. War is not nuanced.

Current polling
says we the people want some cleansing violence. We're not in a mood for common sense.
For a genuinely informative discussion of our latest wars and rumors of more wars, try reading Phyllis Bennis at the link.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Of lethal weapons, the law, and old Quakers

A headline reads "Pa. police: 1 trooper dead, another injured in shooting." Apparently the shooter ambushed these cops. This news would have gone in one eye and out the other if I hadn't had the chance the other day to listen to Chester County officials explain how they deal with balancing the "right to bear arms" with protecting the public safety.

To this urban Californian, it did seem that gun enthusiasts might be getting a lot more consideration than the rest of us. But the highly civil discussion involving Sheriff Carolyn B. Welsh and West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta was informative. Who knew what the Pennsylvania State constitution says about guns?

"The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned."

Adopted in 1790, this standard seems just right for a state that within that decade provided the core of the Whiskey Rebellion against the new United States.

The elderly residents of the continuing care community where the discussion took place, many of them Quakers, mostly had no idea this was the law. Apparently police interpret the state standard to mean that a police officer may not approach or interrogate someone walking down a public street with a weapon, though they do run gun purchasers through the federal background check data base before allowing concealed gun carrying.

Sheriff Welsh's department seems populated with gun enthusiasts: last year they raffled off assault weapons to fund training for a canine unit.

Gun rights seem to be doing well in Pennsylvania -- safety, including safety for law enforcement, perhaps not so much so.

Saturday scenes and scenery: (mostly) wild life

In our weeks on the road, we've met a remarkable variety of critters.

This overfed marmot on a river bank in Spokane apparently feels no need to be shy about watching humans.

This Wyoming prairie dog was a shameless beggar.

Actually this critter lives in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, but the sighting seems rare enough to include.

A box turtle checked us out in North Dakota ...

as did this deer.

This woodchuck was quite shy and scurried away when she caught sight of me with that lens.

On Martha's Vineyard, animals seemed as likely to turn up in vehicles as in fields.

He looks about ready to take the wheel, doesn't he?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday cat blogging

Morty seems to be surviving beautifully in our long absence, as captured in this photo taken by +Maya Pavlova's human.

He has apparently established who is top critter in relation to Hector, his visiting neighbor.