Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sometimes it is good to be sick and tired

... the American public won’t support a lasting U.S. commitment to solve what are perceived to be other people’s problems. A Pew Research poll conducted in late 2013 found that for the first time in the half-century that Americans have been asked this question, a majority of respondents said the U.S. “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” Just 38% disagreed. More recent polls tell the same story. In a democracy, no President can sustain an expensive, ambitious foreign policy without reliable public support. In the U.S., this support is no longer there, and the world knows it. Short of another large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil, it’s hard to imagine anything that can restore public appetite for a more assertive foreign policy anytime soon.

... the U.S. will exercise less power in the coming years in nearly every region of the world, and we can expect a de-Americanization of the international system.

Ian Bremmer, TIME

My emphasis. Mr. Bremmer is distresed. I'm not.

Sure, this doesn't do much for people trapped under buzzing U.S. drones while Washington continues to prosecute global dominance on the cheap (at least if the measure of cost is U.S. lives).

But whatever it takes -- harm reduction, even through exhaustion, is to be applauded.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What goes down might be raised up

That was the price at which I filled the car in Mill Valley, California yesterday. Having spent the summer driving 14000 miles around the country with gas prices sometimes higher than $4 and almost never lower than $3, this was an opportunity not to be skipped.

The lower gas prices are good news for those of us who depend on cars. If lower prices allow us to drive more, it will be bad news for the planet as we increase our carbon emissions.

Paul Krugman points to collateral damage from the apparent oil glut:

We could ... be looking at a situation in which Texas is sliding into recession even as the rest of the country is doing fairly well.

So sorry, all you Texas politicians who want to run for President. Will Mr. Cruz and Mr. Perry start calling for restricting oil production in order to claim their state represents a permanent economic paradise? Could happen -- that's what Saudi rulers do. Extraction industry plutocrats seem to display similar family traits.

Monday, December 29, 2014

In favor of requiring body cameras on cops

Many of my friends may disagree, but I think demanding that cops be equipped with body cameras -- and that cops keep the things turned on! -- could, over time, significantly reduce the level of police violence against citizens.

Lots of good folks are skeptical. One variety of skepticism comes with lots of evidence: we have all learned, bitterly, that most of us see what our biases condition us to see, and therefore that body camera evidence might not break through. After all, we all saw Eric Garner choked -- but somehow a grand jury didn't see homicide. Or, two decades ago, we saw Rodney King beat within an inch of his life -- but a jury in Simi Valley didn't see any police officers doing wrong.

Kevin Drum writes a good discussion of how cognitive science shows that "motivated reasoning" determines what we see. There are plenty of experiments to confirm this. (This article is the source for the picture which probably derived from a sales brochure?)

But I wonder whether our biases can be at least partially unlearned. Sure, we see what we expect (and desire) to see. But all my hours watching football on TV -- watching replays of close plays -- have convinced me that we can learn to be more unbiased observers. When the officials review a dubious catch, as a fan I want my guy to have corralled the ball. And I'll tend to think I saw him catch it. But after years of seeing these films, I have learned to focus narrowly on the specifics that determine whether there was really a catch -- did the ball hit the ground, if so did the player control it, etc. Watching the replays has carried over into watching in real time; I am more and more likely to have seen what replay officials rule when they view the film. This is not natural. It is a result of having learned to focus on the critical variables and to screen out my natural biases.

These days, everyone videos everything. One of the frustrations of photographing protests is avoiding shots cluttered with hands waving phone cameras at the action. Most of the resulting clips are so jumbled as to be incomprehensible. But we did see video of Oscar Grant shot by a BART cop; we did see Eric Garner jumped and choked. And we all learn.

This is becoming a more visually sophisticated society. I think, as with football replays, exposure is teaching us to focus on what matters. And a society that focuses on what matters can stop police violence.

Cops brutalize and kill Black, brown and crazy people because they believe they are charged with protecting "society "-- the good, the white, the conventional people -- from "those people." A requirement that shows what this means, death and mayhem, is all to the good. A reform that creates a presumption that "the camera didn't work" means probable misconduct is all to the good. (I'm old enough to remember cops taping over their name badges when they set out to beat queers.) Only justice for everyone will stop police violence, but more required cameras can help; this seems a worthwhile incremental reform for some people to fight for.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Only one boat, sinking or floating, on only one planet

In a lot of ways, 2014 was an awful year. I'll skip the catalog; every reader here lived it.

But I want to call out what strikes me as an important straw in the wind pointing to better times: lately the hip environmental/climate-hawk magazine Grist has been on a tear, trying communicate to its presumably nerdy, almost certainly white, and likely male, audience that the only way forward involves getting behind the justice demands of people of color, especially Black people.

Brendan Mock, a Black man who carries the title "Justice Editor," has been churning out article after about the differential effect of planetary warming on communities of color. But when a grand jury failed to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death, it all came together for Mock. He learned the news while lying in an emergency room bed, having just been diagnosed with a tumor in this chest.

Many will continue to refuse to connect green issues to black bodies and red blood spilled in the street. Many others will continue to ignore the festering sores of racism, police brutality, and the ongoing vestiges of white supremacy. Ignorant or not, those issues will still grow, and when they do, they’ll touch nerves and cause deeper pains for everyone. Metastasis sets in irrespective of its acknowledgment. ...

Please allow my own life as the analogy: I can’t feel this tumor, or whatever it is, in my chest, but I do still feel the throbbing ache in my back. The two problems may be unconnected. But resolving my spinal pain won’t matter much if I let this thing in my chest take hold of my heart.

Brendan Mock

If Mock were just an isolated token in the Grist world, his epiphany wouldn't matter much. Adopting tokens is one way white supremacy maintains itself. But he's not alone.

Here's editor Ben Adler describing sustainable cities.

Cops must treat the people they encounter — the man standing on the corner, maybe hustling loosies, the kid walking home from school with the sagging pants, the people hanging out in the playground — with respect. Otherwise, the police threaten to chase away the pedestrian vitality that gives cities their spirit.

And here's Greg Hanscom on the lessons of the year:

... if 2014 taught us one thing, it’s that, while cities hold tremendous promise as the source and drivers of climate solutions, unless and until we deal with underlying injustice and inequity, they will never realize that potential. The good news is, thanks to some brutal news in 2014, we are now poised to address those issues in a real and concerted way.

I have pointed before to Grist's female token's Heather Smith explaining the BlackLivesMatter movement to their readers.

I have to ask myself, how much of this newly emphatic positioning from a climate magazine derives from its intellectual heart, editor David Roberts, affirming that climate hawks are on the Left, like it or not.

Climate hawks see a problem that markets will not solve on their own, one that requires long-term planning and some measure of international governance. They see a need for new taxes, regulations, and public investments.

They see an enormous injustice underway, as countries that have grown wealthy burning fossil fuels now stand to visit unthinkable suffering on countries that remain poor and have produced very little climate pollution. Indeed, a hyper-rich global elite is producing a wildly outsized share of the carbon.

Since everyone can’t produce as much carbon as the 1 percent and preserve a liveable climate, either grotesque inequality must stay in place or, as the global poor rise, the global rich must reduce their share. So the climate struggle is inevitably about redistribution, about the spoils of the few vs. the interests of the many. Nothing is more anathema to the current right.

Conservatism seeks to preserve the status quo, which in the U.S. means oil, coal, suburbs, consumerism, and inequality. ...

From there it is not far to recognizing the centrality of the movement for justice for people of color being oppressed by police. Not far at all. We only survive what we have made together; the rest is illusion.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Entertainment values

Over this strange interregnum between holidays, I'm indulging one of my favorite seasonal pastimes: catching parts of almost all the Armpit Bowls. Every year these TV spectacles pit East Armpit against West Instep (colleges, mostly in the South, that seem to exist to play enthusiastic, but seldom great American football) in half empty stadiums before what I suspect are very small TV audiences. These are one of my quirkier passions.

Along with the Bowls, the viewer also endures the seasonal commercials. This year, the two worst to my way of thinking come from Buick and Lexus. I'll share one -- see if you can stomach this:

Fortunately, I don't have to try to deconstruct this for you. Pointless Planet: Inane advertising in an irrelevant world does a terrific job one it.

The same site is also magnificent on those cloying Lexus Christmas Stories. Enjoy.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Journalism and election campaigns display similar hangups

Media professor and gadfly Jay Rosen has put up an interesting post at PressThink about the understanding that anyone going into journalism had better be prepared to cultivate about the business models that technological and social changes are forcing on their profession.

Journalistic enterprises are all struggling to replace the system in which advertisers with few choices for reaching their target customers paid for content -- both "popular" and "serious" -- that would attract the readers and viewers they wanted to reach. The creators of the content, the journalists, proudly disdained the activity of the "business side" of a metaphorical wall where the money grubbers scrambled to fund the journalists' noble undertaking. (Very likely nothing truly this smoothly functioning ever quite existed, but the myth commanded allegiance nonetheless.)

This model no longer pays the bills because advertisers don't have to buy "content" that is more or less irrelevant to their market needs, such as, for example, local election news or investigative reporting that rattles any cages. They might be happier with nothing but weather and sports. And, indeed, as online media proliferate, advertising revenue will no longer be enough to pay for journalism as we have thought of it. Rosen insists that journalists can, and must, think differently in this difficult environment while retaining their professional integrity:

  • If you work in any kind of editorial organization, it is your job to understand the business model. If you feel you can’t do that, you should quit. By “understand the business model,” I mean you can (confidently) answer this question: What is the plan to bring in enough money to sustain the enterprise and permit it to grow? Can’t answer? You have the wrong job.
  • The business model is not the business only of the business “side” (a wretched metaphor) because a vital part of any such model is the way in which the editorial staff creates value, earns audience, wins mind share, generates influence, builds brand. These are the sorts of goods a good sales staff sells. It’s your job to understand the business model, because you have to know what kind of good you’re being asked to create, or you won’t be any good at creating it.
  • The Editor has to come to a clear agreement with the publisher and commercial staff on: a.) what the business model is, meaning: how are we going to sustain ourselves and grow? b.) exactly how -- in that model -- the editorial team creates value for the business, and c.) the zone of independence the editorial team will need to meet those expectations. ... Every successful publication that does journalism operates with a kind of contract between The Editor and the people who own the joint. (Unless they’re the same people.) If the contract is unclear, if different people have different ideas about what it says, if the staff doesn’t understand it, then neuroses will set in. The result will be an unhappy place to work.
  • If you work on the commercial “side” (misleading image) of an editorial company and you cannot explain the kind of value the journalists have to add for the business model to click on all cylinders, or if you see them as merely an expense item -- and a whiny, entitled one at that — then you too are in the wrong job. Please leave as soon as possible

Rosen enumerates some ideas for how such a media organization might work in another post.

I was struck by these points because they seemed so familiar. In my work on political campaigns, the same willful misunderstandings that Rosen calls out in journalism play out far too often. This is counter-intuitive. Campaigns are almost always topdown, disciplined structures with little pretense of collegiality. Anything legal goes; the ethical standard is a bald utilitarianism, with little pretense of any higher values. But nonetheless, something like what Rosen describes in journalism goes on in too many campaigns:
  • Message mavens, ad creators and organizers like to assume it's up to the fundraisers to find the cash to pay for their plans. Campaigns even contract out the fundraising function to separate operatives. Separation here is nuts. Your campaign plan, how you aim to win, is your pitch, at least in part.
  • Everybody in the campaign needs to be able to explain both message (why people should vote for your candidate or initiative) and why as many people as possible should contribute money so the campaign can execute its (excellent) plan. If fundraising is thought of as an esoteric (and slightly dirty) afterthought, this won't happen.
  • Strong campaign managers model the unity between voter contact initiatives (online media, ads, and knock-on-door field programs) and raising cash to pay for all of it.
  • Fundraisers shouldn't squirrel away their contacts from those scruffy field operatives. People with money aren't just pots of cash; they have friends and social networks too that need to be touched by the campaign. They should be drawn as much as possible into campaign activities. Even if they are unwilling, asking their participation for more than their cash reassures them that the campaign is working toward its goal.

Friday cat blogging

Issac wonders who the strangers are who have come to feed him and to clean the box.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart
Howard Thurman (1899 - 1981)

May whatever seasonal holiday you observe, if any, be bright and blessed. And if you can, just for a little while, heed this sidewalk stencil:

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Queers rally for #BlackLivesMatter on Christmas Eve

The intersection of Market street and Octavia Boulevard was blocked to traffic briefly this morning while LGBT protesters reminded passersby that the struggle for justice cannot take a holiday.

Both the SFPD and motorists were largely tolerant of the disruption. Some drivers honked approval. I have no idea what cars backed up on the freeway out of sight of the protest may have thought was going on.

While we occupied the intersection we chanted a litany of names of victims of police violence.

We observed 4 minutes and 28 seconds of silence recalling the 4 and one half hours Mike Brown's body lay on the street in Ferguson after he was shot by an officer last August.

From mid-Market we marched up the intersection of Castro and Market.

Again we formed a circle around a large pink triangle ...

... and again sat silent for 4 minutes, 28 seconds.

No assemblage is complete without some preaching; her message was Queer Black lives matter!

Found Madonnas

San Francisco may be one of the least Christian cities in the country, but the archetype of the Madonna, the Mother with infant embodying both potentiality and pain, still turns up powerfully on our streets. I encountered these three while Walking San Francisco. Click to enlarge.

One of San Francisco's Benny Bufano scupltures

She was stenciled on a sidewalk.

I see Iraq and Syria in this, but I do not know the artist's intent.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Thoughts at Christmas: examples of Christian privilege

It's not so easy, sadly.
A friend who was raised as a Hindu in the U.S. shares this list.
If you’re a Christian in the US, these are a bunch of unearned benefits you get that members of other faiths (or non-religious people) do not.

It’s not about shame. It’s about understanding:

1. You can expect to have time off work to celebrate religious holidays.

2. Music and television programs pertaining to your religion’s holidays are readily accessible. ...

9. If you are being tried in court, you can assume that the jury of “your peers” will share your faith and not hold that against you in weighing decisions.

10. When swearing an oath, you will place your hand on a religious scripture pertaining to your faith. ...

20. Your faith can be an aspect of your identity without being a defining aspect (e.g., people won’t think of you as their “Christian” friend)

21. You can be polite, gentle, or peaceful, and not be considered an “exception” to those practicing your faith.

22. Fundraising to support congregations of your faith will not be investigated as potentially threatening or terrorist behavior.

23. Construction of spaces of worship will not likely be halted due to your faith.
Follow this link to see nearly 30 more items.

There is however one item I'd quibble with:
14. It is easy for you to find your faith accurately depicted in television, movies, books, and other media.
Not so. One of the more painful aspects of being a Christian is listening to others, some even friends, spewing complete nonsense about the implications of that faith. Some of this is harmless ignorance; too much is simply garbage. If more people had any more grounded idea what that first century Jewish religious insurgent was up to, we would need fewer lists like this.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Posada in the Mission remembering Alex Nieto

Nine months ago the San Francisco Police Department shot Alex Nieto while he paused to eat a burrito on the side of Bernal Heights. The unarmed City College student and security guard made no threat to anyone. The San Francisco Police Department has refused to say who the officers were who fired 14 shots into Mr. Nieto.

At 24th and Mission yesterday, Adriana Camerena spoke to a small crowd gathered to walk to the Bernal Heights site. Behind her stand members of other families who have lost relatives to police shootings.

Friends of Nieto recalled his last Christmas, driving with him up and down Mission Street in a low-rider, singing and waving to passers-by.

These people are the families of Antonio Lopez, shot by police in San Jose, and of Yanira Serrano Garcia, killed in Half Moon Bay last June, only 20 seconds after an officer arrived to answer their call for help getting her to take her meds.

Antonio Lopez's son fingered a toy.

Relatives remember O'Shaine Evans, killed by the SFPD in October while the officers were patrolling for car burglars.

Errol Chang was another victim of law enforcement officers murderously substituting shooting for mental health assistance. Calling the police for help can be deadly. What are families to do?

The walk through streets was both somber and angry. Too many police shootings! Too little justice! People need help, not police acting like an unaccountable gang with guns.

Mary Moylan: too Irish to be a pacifist

Brendan Walsh: "They never got Mary ..."

That comment, almost a throwaway line in the film Hit & Stay, haunts me.

Mary Moylan was one of the Catonsville Nine, antiwar activists (mostly Catholic) who burned draft files with homemade napalm in 1968, thereby modeling a new style of resistance to the Vietnam bloodshed. They were convicted at trial; some of them including Mary chose not to report to serve their sentences. The far better known Fathers Berrigan played peekaboo with the F.B.I. and were caught soon enough. But Moylan, one of only two women in the action, chose to disappear from public view in a different manner, losing herself in the burgeoning women's movement. She only surfaced nine years later and then served a year in federal prison.

All this was long before the internet; Google doesn't have much to tell about this woman who went her own way in this very male-oriented culture of protest. She died in 1995, no longer apparently connected to any community. The most illuminating material comes from a friendly memorial article by Carl Schoettler in the Baltimore Sun.

... she was so successful in her Orphic descent underground she lost contact with old comrades and her friends and her family. Some of the people who loved her most never saw her again. Lots of people knew a little bit about her, not many everything. She became a cherished, shadowy memory.

Mary Moylan died sometime in late April in Asbury Park, N.J. No one knows quite when; no one wrote an obituary. ...

"Mary was the kind of person who stood on her own two feet and developed her own positions and stuck by them stubbornly," says Suzanne Ross, an activist in the women's movement, who arranged a memorial for Ms. Moylan in New York City. ...

Willa Bickham and Brendan Walsh, the couple who have devoted their lives to serving soup and love at their Viva House table [in Baltimore], did keep in touch with Ms. Moylan during the years of her underground exile and afterward. They remember her as a pioneer of contemporary feminism who took pride in evading federal agents longer than any of the Catonsville Nine men who went underground on April 9, 1970, the day when they were all supposed to begin prison sentences. She was a strong woman in a movement pretty much dominated by men. And she knew it.

Soon after disappearing, she wrote in Hard Times, a radical journal of the time, "When I realized four of the men were going underground, I did some re-thinking and decided because women's liberation is one of the most important issues being raised, I felt I had to do the same thing -- and do it with sisters, and with the help of sisters."

... Mary Moylan grew up in a very respectable, very Catholic Irish family in West Baltimore and in Parkville. Her father was a court reporter and her mother was a secretary at Johns Hopkins Press. She went to school at Mount St. Agnes and trained as a nurse at Mercy Hospital.

But she got irritated when people labeled the Catonsville Nine "Catholic pacifists." She didn't feel very Catholic and not at all pacifist.

"I'm much too Irish to be a pacifist," she said long ago. "I have no relationship with the Catholic church nor do I want one."

... She believed in direct action.

"The idea of jail doesn't bother me that much," she wrote in her Hard Times article. "The idea of cooperating with the federal government in any way at all irritates the hell out of me."

These tidbits make me wish that more of a written record of this woman's life was accessible. She was a feminist pioneer who lived her convictions.

This post is an addendum that felt necessary to my previous post about the film Hit & Stay.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

When resistance erupted among the white working class

What I found most striking about this film was the faces: these people were all white! They were also mostly men.

Hit & Stay: a history of faith and resistance documents the emergence, spread, and gradual disintegration of a one strain amid the broad movement to stop the US war on Vietnam. Over several years in the late 1960s, starting with religiously motivated Catholic priests and nuns, anguished opponents of the US attack on Vietnamese self-determination, did their best to impede the war effort by breaking the conscription system. The Catonsville 9 action, shown in the film, is usually taken as the spark. The early actions may have started as symbolic protest, the sort of thing that we now largely associate with mass nonviolence. But at the trial of the first group, four men who had poured their blood on Baltimore draft files, the government whined that there were no copies of the damaged documents. The film inserts an image of a light bulb snapping on. Subsequent actions became more and more serious about ensuring that the infrastructure that fed the military with cannon fodder would become unable to operate. And they made a dent. The film includes of clip of newscaster Walter Cronkite solemnly announcing that ""the Selective Service system said today that there have been 271 attacks on draft board offices this year."

So who were these people who resisted so actively? Here I'm sharing my own thoughts, informed mostly by own experience of those times as well as subsequent political movements. I have worked closely with one person whose face is in the movie and was acquainted with several others, but only tangentially.

The Roman Catholic protest movement that pointed the way for these actions came out of a social milieu that is hard to imagine now. Today, there are five Catholics sitting on the Supreme Court and many white Catholics are very much entrenched among the middle and upper classes. (Obviously, this is not so true for Latino and immigrant Catholics.) Back then, though the Catholic John F. Kennedy had won the presidency in 1960, most white Catholics were only one generation into the US mainstream, mostly still wage workers, not managers. The World War II mobilization to defeat Nazi Germany and imperial Japan had been a rite of passage that conferred full inclusion in America triumphant on Italian, Irish, Polish and other non-Anglo citizens.

Many Catholics in the resistance to the Vietnam war were the children of that first mainstream generation. Some had their own experience of military service in the draft army. But probably all came from families and social settings where pride in newly affirmed citizenship ran deep and where highly educated critics of society were rare. Seeing their country wage an immoral war was acutely painful to this younger generation, as was the divide they too often felt from the world of many of their older relatives.

The film suggests but does not clearly show this. Perhaps that is too much to ask. One activist, Bob Good, introduces the milieu, explaining how his brother answered his Selective Service call as was expected in the neighborhood:

"you were drafted and you went ..."

His brother was killed in the war at 19 years old. By the end of the film, Good's mother is offering impassioned testimony at the trial of the Camden 28, helping to win jury nullification of the charges against these admitted attackers of government property.

Moral outrage over Vietnam changed individuals and communities. The film uses commentary from a Johns Hopkins University historian, Joel Andreas, to sum up the impact:

... the antiwar movement didn't stop the Vietnam war but it took the people's discontent and turned it into a conscious discontent and that hadn't existed before and it has existed ever since, it never went away.

I reveled in the old footage and untold stories that make up this documentary. It's certainly worth the time of anyone interested in the history of US peace movements.

But I also have some serious quibbles with the way the filmmakers tell their story. Let's start with the title: "Hit & Stay." This refers to the willingness of these nonviolent activists to hang around to be arrested and tried after doing their raids. But very rapidly, the movement turned away from this practice, playing hide and seek with the authorities whenever possible and often completely evading capture. The result was great theater -- why emphasize what these activists mostly did not do?

In the latter stages of this movement, a sub-group including some leaders were charged by the Feds with conspiring to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up steam tunnels under Washington. The government got the ammunition for these off-the-wall charges from intercepted communications between Fr. Phil Berrigan while he was locked in a federal prison and the nun he eventually married, Liz McAllister. As Jim Forrest says in the film:

"these were love letters in disguise ... all Liz was trying to do was convince Phil we were still thinking creatively... "

The brave solidarity of their resistance communities -- no one was willing testify before grand juries despite risking jail for maintaining silence -- ensured that the government had no viable case. After years during which many activists lived under threat of long sentences, that set of charges went away.

This episode divided the Catholic part of the movement as some felt they'd been lied to by leaders who had supposedly vowed celibacy. Leading roles in what by then was known as The Resistance more and more moved out of the orbit of the Catholic founders. All of this was complicated at the time and is difficult to tell in a film narrative; though the movie presents aspects of the tale, I am not sure it made them accessible to viewers today. Again, maybe I am asking the impossible. We live in different times.

Finally, the film makers intersperse old footage and contemporary interviews with activists from that time with commentary from people who are more recognizable today. I have no quarrel with included remarks from Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! or from Noam Chomsky. In fact, I think Chomsky sums up the meaning of all this very well:

... civil disobedience is a tactic .. the point of the tactic is to inspire .. maybe others will do a little more ...

That's seems still true and pertinent.

But I cannot fathom the documentarians' decision to include snippets from Bill Ayers and Laura Whitehorn. The segment of the movement that included the nonviolence-inspired resisters who are the subject of this film had very little intersection with the Weathermen; both sets abhorred the war and the system which carried on the slaughter, but they operated in quite different spaces in the broad movement of the times. I cannot see Ayers or Whitehorn as relevant commentators at all

Perhaps their presence here is evidence of a certain incoherence I feel in the film. Did the subject just come to feel so sprawling that the documentarians gave up on shaping their narrative?
The DVD of the film is available from the film website and from Amazon.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday scenes and scenery: San Francisco decorates for the season

In the absence of an evergreen, just hang your globes from the nearest high place.

We don't have snow here, but we hang snowflakes.

I love this -- I might even buy one. It comes from a display ad on a bus shelter which promises you can get something less tacky if you'll just visit the museum store being advertised.

Some of the best Xmas displays are in store windows. No, I didn't get what they are advertising. (UPDATE: turns out that Colonel Sanders is Xmas fare in Japan.)

I rather liked this tasteful Santa on someone's front door.

Back to those bushes ...

These photos are by-products of my photo blog, 596 Precincts -- Walking San Francisco.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Safety net: just skip the weasel words

In the context of a rather sensible article reviewing research on how Scandinavian countries manage to entice a far higher proportion of their 20-59 year old population into the labor force than the US, Neil Irwin remarks:

In the large, diverse United States, there is deep skepticism of social welfare programs and direct government spending, along with a greater commitment to keeping taxes low.

Why doesn't Irwin just skip the code words? More honestly, this sentence would read:

There are a lot of people of color in the U.S. The majority of white citizens aren't about to provide government assistance that goes to those people. We don't like taxes much and we refuse to spend more on them.

Until/unless people of color are just as much part of the tribe as the next white guys, policies aren't going to change.

At long last ...

Tom Hayden makes a prediction now that the US and Cuba are finally moving toward normal relations:

... if the president has his wish, the Obama family will be seen on the streets of Havana before his term is up.

That seems a little over the top. But there can't be any doubt that this is welcome news. The linked article presents an interesting chronology of how both parties came to their present positions. The Pope doesn't figure in it at all, but the US left, Cuban assistance to African nations and Senator Patrick Leahy show up. Worth reading.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Not crying over Sony's costly screw-up

Yesterday the movie studio announced that it was canceling release of its upcoming comedy blockbuster about the assassination of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Well good. The company should have had enough sense to know that you don't make a movie about killing a sitting head of state, even if the target is a real two-bit thug from a half-bit country. Killing heads of state is not something to take lightly. Mock the slime ball, sure. But give yourself some deniability. Situate your plot in some invented country and let the audience figure it out of if you like.

Defenders of The Interview cite Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator; but note, Chaplin didn't name Hitler in his movie. And Hitler did qualify as a "great" threat. Aside from his unfortunate people and near neighbors, Kim is just a bizarre irritant.

The arrogance of thinking you can make this movie using real names boggles my mind.

The film cost Sony some $44 million to make and an additional $35 million to promote. I've barely been able to watch a football game in the last two weeks without seeing multiple ads.
And let's hope our spooks, having identified North Korea as the source of a massive, embarrassing hacking attack on Sony, use these events as an chance to figure out how to improve our cybersecurity. They don't need to respond with their own cyberwar. Let Sony absorb the hurt. Wishful thinking, probably.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The ACLU must have better things to do ...

Eventually I came to understand that being able to marry in the eyes of the state was something that LGBT people needed in order to be full citizens with full civil rights. And we're getting there. (We're also getting there in religious institutions which seems much more important to me, since that is where we affirm our partnerships in the context of community.)

But I am damned if I am going to put energy into fighting for the right to buy wedding cakes and flowers from vendors who feel a need to distance themselves from gay marriages.

The New York Times reports:

... refusals by the religious merchants — bakers, florists and photographers, for example — have been taking place for several years. But now local governments are taking an increasingly hard line on the issue, as legislative debates over whether to protect religious shop owners are overtaken by administrative efforts to punish them.

... In Colorado, where Mr. Phillips, 58, owns and operates a small bakery called Masterpiece Cakeshop, the State Civil Rights Commission determined that Mr. Phillips had violated a state law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in places of public accommodation. ... In New York, an administrative law judge fined Cynthia and Robert Gifford $13,000 for declining to rent their upstate farmhouse, which they often rent out for heterosexual weddings, for the wedding of two women. ... There have been more than a half-dozen other instances of business owners, most citing their understanding of Christian faith, declining to provide services for same-sex weddings.

... The cases are largely being fought, and some say fueled, by two legal advocacy organizations: the American Civil Liberties Union, which supports same-sex marriage, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, which opposes it. ...

I understand that we queers probably do have valid claims under public accommodation laws: if you are operating a public business, you can't go choosing not to sell your goods to some people while offering them to others.

But please -- do we really need to fight for our equal right to consume? In general, the sums that people seem to feel they must spend on weddings are a little gross. We're just starting in on this -- do we have to adopt the worst of straight customs? (Probably yes.)

But the hard-pressed nonprofits that fight for legal rights must have better places to use their resources than fighting for wedding props. If they want to serve our community, let them litigate for better rights at work and for transgender people who often lag LGB folks when it comes to equal protection of the law.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Don't tell me professional football players are dumb jocks

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins wore a practice shirt calling for justice for two Black victims of unjustifiable police shootings. If you are wondering, Tamir Rice was the 12 year old kid with a toy gun killed by Cleveland cops two seconds after they drove up to investigate him. John Crawford was shot by police inside a Walmart in Dayton, Ohio when he picked up a toy gun.

A police union was mightily pissed off by Hawkins' gesture, so the football player explained himself.

I was taught that justice is a right that every American should have. Also justice should be the goal of every American. I think that’s what makes this country. To me, justice means the innocent should be found innocent. It means that those who do wrong should get their due punishment. Ultimately, it means fair treatment. So a call for justice shouldn’t offend or disrespect anybody. A call for justice shouldn’t warrant an apology.

To clarify, I utterly respect and appreciate every police officer that protects and serves all of us with honesty, integrity and the right way. And I don’t think those kind of officers should be offended by what I did. My mom taught me my entire life to respect law enforcement. I have family, close friends that are incredible police officers and I tell them all the time how they are much braver than me for it. So my wearing a T-shirt wasn’t a stance against every police officer or every police department. My wearing the T-shirt was a stance against wrong individuals doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons to innocent people.

Unfortunately, my mom also taught me just as there are good police officers, there are some not-so-good police officers that would assume the worst of me without knowing anything about me for reasons I can’t control. She taught me to be careful and be on the lookout for those not-so-good police officers because they could potentially do me harm and most times without consequences. Those are the police officers that should be offended. ...


Read the rest at the link. This guy knows what he is choosing and why ...

H/t TPM for aspects of the story.

Chanukah 2014

I received this image from Jewish Voice for Peace, a brave organization whose motto is "Israelis, Palestinians. Two Peoples, One Future."

The group struggles for more light every day ... and they can always use the support of people who care for peace and justice.

Also heartening is Chanukah Action to End Police Violence which lists local actions, beginning today.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Beyond impunity for torturers

Nobody has done more to awaken people in the United States to our country's widespread adoption of torture in the context of our misguided response to the 9/11 attacks than Jane Mayer. Writing in the New Yorker and later in The Dark Side, she laid bare the torture policy long before our crimes became common knowledge. But choosing an unblinking gaze is dispiriting work; Mayer's current commentary on the Torture Report ends on a downbeat note.

[Darius] Rejali, [professor of political science at Reed College] who has studied the tension between torture and democracy around the world, says that “there’s a five- or six-year window for any kind of accountability. We’re now past that window. The two sides are entrenched.” Without a mutual acknowledgment of the mistakes made, and some form of accountability, he warned, another reversion to torture may be difficult to prevent: “Nothing predicts future behavior as much as past impunity.”

Undoubtedly, Professor Rejali knows whereof he speaks. Dick Cheney is almost certain to avoid legal punishment for the atrocities he caused to be done to prisoners and to the values of this country. That contraption he uses for a heart will likely malfunction before justice gets to him.

But actually the history of countries that have adopted torture after ostensibly repudiating it is not as simple as Rejali suggests. Even if they fail to move against the crime during the short immediate window he identifies, that does NOT mean that the struggle to end impunity is over. It looks as if there are multiple windows, particularly as some of the more powerful perpetrators die off, in which national re-evaluation and even apology for past wrongs can be won.

Many current examples are in Latin America, where the 1970s and 80s were the heyday of militarily regimes that tortured and murdered in defense of oligarchy -- with U.S. connivance, I should add. And yet ....
  • Who ever thought that Chile's dictator, Augusto Pinochet, would be indicted and arrested for his crimes against his people? But that time came, 25 years after his bloody overthrow of Chilean democracy. The present president, Michelle Bachelet, was one of the thousands of Chileans tortured under Pinochet.
  • On December 10, the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, wept while unveiling a report on a military torture in her nation. She too had been one of the victims of the ruling generals some 30 years ago. Brazil is discussed repealing its amnesty law in order to charge some of the 377 former officials named in their torture report.
  • Uruguay too is coming around to prosecuting its surviving torturers from the era between 1981-85. These men turned the country into a behaviorist experiment in cruelty. I written before about these stunning developments here and here.
  • The recent death, at age 95, of French General Paul Aussaresses who, like Dick Cheney, proudly defended the torture he perpetrated during Algeria's war of independence from France, has again brought to prominence that country's history of crimes against humanity. An accessible picture of those crimes is available in the haunting movie Battle of Algiers. Neil MacMaster tells the story of how France reassessed its torture war through an "open debate ... on the profound damage done by such institutionalised barbarity both to the victims and to the individuals and regimes that deploy it." It took forty years to open the can of worms, but torture was widely repudiated in the early '00s as a stain on the national record.
The history of the last century tells us that impunity for crimes of torture does not last forever. Dick Cheney may not live to see justice; for that matter I may not live to see justice affirmed. But continuing the struggle against impunity is not a fool's errand; in this case, history will likely condemn those we cannot today put on trial.
Erudite partner Rebecca's commentary on the issuance of the Torture Report, US Torture Didn’t End When Bush Left Office is up at The Nation.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Yet another reason to loathe Chris Christie

Watching the football game tonight, we learn that the obnoxious New Jersey Republican is a good buddy of Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones. No wonder Christie is such a dick.

#BlackLivesMatter #ICantBreathe #MillionsMarch

Several thousand of us marched down Market Street in San Francisco on Saturday.

As we started up Market Street, I was apprehensive. I too frequently feel as if I've been marching about one atrocity or another for nearly 50 years -- because I have. It gets demoralizing. But this day had a determined energy I haven't felt in a long time.

Several times the crowd halted to "die in" -- lie on the pavement for 4 and a half minutes, reminiscent of the 4.5 hours that Mike Brown's body lay on the asphalt in Ferguson, MO after he was shot by Officer Darren Wilson. The sound system played a recording of Eric Garner's last words as he was choked by Officer Daniel Pantaleo on Staten Island lst July: "I can't breathe. I can't breathe. I can't breathe..." Eleven times, Garner repeated this while police officers pressed his restrained body into the sidewalk. Then he died.

There are a great many of us who are not going to let the powers-that-be silence us, for all the Mike Browns, the Eric Garners and for San Francisco's own Alex Nieto.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Getting up to speed for the national Day of Resistance

There are people in this country whose lives are disposable; more and more of us are sick of it.

The Ferguson Action site calls this a Wave of Indignation.” I like that. Many of us, in many places, will take to the streets today to demand that police stop killing and to insist that #BlackLivesMatter.

Click to enlarge.
The billboard at San Francisco's Galeria de la Raza currently displays the faces of 20 murdered individuals, most killed by various sorts of police officers, all the objects of bigotry, and nearly all the targets of racism(s).

I found tracking down who they were an instructive exercise. I hope you too find this catalog of interest. Clockwise from the upper left corner:

Aiyana Jones, African American, was only seven years old when she was shot by the Detroit Police Department's Special Response Team in 2010. The shooter, Officer Joseph Weekley, escaped conviction in three trials.

Jordan Davis, African American, was shot dead in Jacksonville, FL in 2012 by a white software developer who objected to the Black youth playing loud music. After two trials, Michael David Dunn was found guilt of first degree murder.

Ramarley Graham, African American, was killed by NYPD officer Richard Haste in his home in March 2012. No gun was found. Police say Graham was caught flushing marijuana down the toilet. Graham's six year old brother witnessed the shooting.

Islan Nettles, African American, was killed by persons unidentified outside a New York City police precinct station in 2013. The murder of this young transwoman seems not to have been a matter of much importanace to the NYPD.

Jonathan Ferrell, African American, went looking for help after an auto accident in a suburban Charlotte, NC neighborhood in 2013. A white police officer, Randall Kerrick, responding to a call from a local homeowner, shot him dead as he ran toward the arriving police cars.

Vonderrit Myers, African American, shot by St. Louis police in October, was no "innocent" victim. He had a prior gun violence arrest and police produced pictures of Myers with a gun. But did a cop moonlighting as a security guard have to chase and shoot him?

Alejandra Leos, Latina, a transwoman shot outside her home in Memphis in September 2014. Police arrested a suspect.

Jesus Huerta, Latino, somehow shot himself or was shot while in Durham, NC police custody last November. He was handcuffed in a squad car in which the video monitoring system was turned off. Huerta's parents had requested police aid in committing their drug-up son.

Oscar Grant, African American, was shot in the back by a BART (transit) cop on New Years Day 2009. The killing was caught on video. The killer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served a short sentence.

Alan Buford, African American, an unarmed high school senior, inexplicably killed by Oakland police officer Miguel Masso on May 6, 2012.

Mike Brown, African American, was killed by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO on August 9. His body was left uncovered in the sun on the street for 4 and a half hours. Wilson was not indicted.

Yanira Serrano, Latina, who suffered from diagnosed schizophrenia, died on June 3 2014 in Half Moon Bay, CA when her family called for police help to get her to take medicine. Within 30 seconds of arriving, Deputy Menh Trieu had shot the disabled woman.

Kelly Thomas, white and homeless, died of injuries inflicted by three police officers in Fullerton, CA. According to doctors when he was delivered to a hospital unconscious, bones in his face were broken and he had choked on his own blood. All three officers were found "not guilty" of all charges.

Jose Antonio Rodriquez, a Mexican national, was shot from a surveillance tower atop the U.S. border fence on the street in his home of Nogales, Sonora in 2012. The U.S. government has not named any of its officers as responsible. The teen was unarmed.

Renisha McBride, African American, went looking for help after an auto accident in 2013 and was shot, through the door, when she approached the door of Theodore Wafer, a white homeowner. Wafer was convicted of second-degree murder.

Eric Garner, African American, was choked to death by Officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17 while selling single cigarettes on the street. His last words were "I can't breathe."

Andy Lopez, Latino, was in eighth grade in Santa Rosa, CA in 2013 when he was killed by Erick Gelhaus, a Sonoma County sheriff's deputy. He was carrying a toy replica of an AK-47.

Omar Abrego, Latino, died of a beating by Los Angeles police oficers at a traffic stop in August 2014.

Brandy Martell, African American, was gunned down in 2012 in Oakland, CA in what community members believe was a hate crime against the transwoman.

Alex Nieto, Latino, was shot by San Francisco police officers while sitting in a park, alone, eating a burrito on March 21. The City is still stonewalling releasing the names of the killer(s) or any evidence in the case.