Thursday, April 30, 2015

Forty years ago ... last flight out of Saigon

The war that formed the awful backdrop of my young adulthood ended like this on April 30, 1975.

Our elites have still not taken the lesson: no attempt by the United States to install an enduring regime by direct force in someone else's country has taken root since 1945 -- except perhaps in fly-speck Grenada. Even our less direct interventions have come to little except carnage and oppression.

As the generation dies off that saw the United States facilitating the recovery of western Europe and Japan from militarist and fascist barbarism in the mid-20th century, can we accept that this age no longer tolerates empire?

Photo via Wikipedia.

Coordinated cries for justice

Israeli activists demonstrate across from the Prime Minister's Residence demanding to end the blockade on Gaza, April 29, 2015 (photo credit: Free Jerusalem Facebook page)

According to the Jerusalem Times:

Sahar Vardi, a 24-year-old history student at Hebrew University wearing a black t-shirt reading “Gaza my dear” in Hebrew and Arabic, said she and a group of activist friends organized the Jerusalem protest after being asked to do so by a female student in Gaza with whom she was in touch through Facebook and Skype. ...

“The common denominator of all the people I speak to in Gaza is that they’re in despair,” Vardi said later. “That’s why this event gives me so much hope. Here are young Gazans, many of whom never left the Strip, who despite everything believe in protest and the ability to change. I think it’s incredible.”

... “We were specifically asked by the Gazans to bring their voice to Israel,” she said. “That’s impressive.”

In San Francisco, the unflagging activists of Jewish Voice for Peace answered the Gazan's call in front of the barricaded Israeli consulate downtown.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

So Bernie is stepping up to challenge the Clinton coronation ...

Thanks Bernie. It would be great if the Vermont independent Senator sticks out the primaries until California votes on June 7, 2016. I would have someone to vote for. It's hard to imagine he'll last that long. Running and not winning is expensive and he's not likely to attract his own sugar daddy.

Vermont Public Radio reports he'll announce Thursday. Since he's been haunting early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, this is no surprise.

Sanders' basic message will be that the middle class in America has been decimated in the past two decades while wealthy people and corporations have flourished.

His opposition to a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (T.P.P.) shows how he plans to frame this key issue of his campaign.

"If you want to understand why the middle class in America is disappearing and why we have more wealth and income inequality in America than we have had since the late 1920s, you have to address the issue of trade,” Sanders said in a phone interview on April 23.

Oddly enough I once worked on a campaign in which Bernie was one of our opponents. He lost. So did my guy, a former governor and antiwar Democrat, Phil Hoff. Vermont sent an undistinguished incumbent Republican named Prouty to sit in the Senate. Prouty died in office the next year, 1971. Vermont continued its drift to the left, giving the Senate its only "democratic Socialist" in 2006.
I'm particularly glad to see Sanders stepping us as events in Baltimore are spotlighting Martin O'Malley's history as the guy who brought "zero tolerance" policing to that unhappy community. When you empower the police to stop, frisk, arrest, and harass and occasionally kill Black citizens, eventually you get riots. That's just the way of world.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What's color got to do with it?

Make no mistake, Lone Star Nation: How Texas Will Transform America by Richard Parker is a terrible book -- disorganized, repetitive, under-edited and unconvincing. That's too bad, because Parker raises and touches on what are probably many of the appropriate issues in a book about contemporary Texas: migration, racial and ethnic diversity, demographic change, urbanization, the legacies of do-nothing Republican governments, under-funded public education, and climate change in the form of drought. Too bad he doesn't have much that's cogent to say about this hodgepodge.

His method is journalistic. He introduces his reader to a cast of individuals who serve as stand-ins for his themes. "Carla Ramos" (I don't know if this is a real name or a pseudonym) serves as an instance of the emerging generation of Latinos. And in telling her story, he tosses off an anecdote that should inspire considerable speculation on a vital topic about which Parker is seemingly oblivious.

By the final months of 2013, Carla Ramos was living with her boyfriend in East Austin. Somehow the ethnicity of the young gentry was lost on the locals. She laughed: "They call us 'the white people'. They point to our house and say, 'Look, that's where the white people live.'"

Those remarks could use some unpacking that Parker doesn't offer.

Are these "locals" African Americans who are being displaced by Latinos? Or are these "locals" Latinos -- perhaps recent migrants or very low income workers -- who take Carla's ambition and relative affluence as a markers of race rather than class? Do "Hispanics" become "white" when they acquire education and more money? What is the role of African Americans -- a population whose absolute numbers are holding steady in both Austin and the state but declining precipitously in share of the population? Is "race" in Texas still defined in the ancestral fashion of this country as being determined by proximity in color and economic position to African Americans?

Parker offers next to nothing on these questions. I'm not ready to stipulate that Texas or the rest of the country is on its way to escaping them.

Majority supports the Iran deal

We might see more of this if peace breaks out. 

A couple of days ago I created a list of obvious issues on which Republican party orthodoxy is out of step with a majority of us. It wasn't hard. The list is long.

But I didn't include any foreign policy concerns because I wasn't sure the data was quite as clear in that arena. Now I learn I was wrong.

The Quinnipiac University National Poll reports that:
American voters support 58 - 33 percent the preliminary agreement with Iran to restrict that country's nuclear program, according to a Quinnipiac University National poll released today.
The agreement worries respondents; they are apparently not sure that Iran will keep its word. But they clearly want this to work.

Despite all our residual hawkery, apparently the lesson of Bush's failed wars still has wide influence. I'm sure that war-mongering elites and the media could frighten many of us into supporting new dumb wars. But for the moment, we're still somewhat resistant.

Photo: German women play Iranian women in Tehran, 2007.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Kathmandu on my mind

I sit in San Francisco where the earth has been known to shake and think about Nepal. This is the Boudhanath Stupa as it looked when I visited in 2010. It is a world heritage site, very much a place of spiritual power. There are reports that the earthquake damaged the spire above the eyes and some of the adjacent buildings and smaller stupas.

This shot shows the tower that is reported damaged.

These worshipers circumambulated continuously. I remember thinking that I wondered whether the brick buildings surrounding the stupa could survive a quake. The space is cramped. The few available pictures on the news don't answer that question.

This was Patan Durbar Square in 2010. The taller brick buildings on the right are now piles of rubble. The stupa on the left seems to have survived the quake. I took this picture at midday, roughly the time the earthquake struck.

Patan was a busy place.

This construction worker was tying steel reinforcement on a new building, exactly the sort of construction that a city located on a fault requires. Note that he is doing the work in flip-flops. OSHA would not approve.

The Nepalese are tough and resilient. They have to be. Essentially there is no government, only erratic electricity, hardly any roads. It will be weeks before there is a full picture of what happened to people outside the big city, closer to the epicenter of the quake.

Mercy Corps seems to be on the ground in Kathmandu with local staff. So is Oxfam.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Straws in the wind: cul-de-sacs and sugar daddies

The evolving 2016 presidential campaign is not gripping, at least to me. Hillary evokes no enthusiasm. Yes, she represents a significantly lesser evil and we have to elect her, but the best she draws from me is a dutiful sigh. And the Republicans are dangerous, disgusting, and clownish.

But things are flying about in the 2016-horserace that I suspect may eventually have meaning. Consider these tidbits:

It’s an awkward dance for Republicans, who face divergent pressures: a party electorate skeptical of a top priority of President Barack Obama; a public increasingly convinced of the scientific consensus that the Earth is warming; and donors tied to oil and coal eager to head off new government mandates.

“Republicans have essentially painted themselves into a corner on climate change in the last few years,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. “They’re between a rock and a hard place.”

Bloomberg, April 22 2015

And obviously, the corner Republicans have painted themselves into is not merely about climate change. In deference to their fearful, aging white male base, they cannot present realistic responses to any number of issues on which polling now shows them out of step with a majority of the electorate: immigration reform with a path to citizenship for our undocumented residents, raising the minimum wage, marriage equality and protection for employment and housing rights for LGBT people, and even Obamacare which has lately polled positive support.

Meanwhile, the Supremes have given the green light to billionaires to buy whatever political influence they wish by directly supporting candidates. The same Republicans who can't offer anything most of us want in the way of policy are scrambling for the spoils.

Forget the top one percent, the top 0.01 percent of Americans gave nearly 42 percent of all political donation dollars in the 2012 election cycle. Just over 30,000 individuals contributed nearly half of all money. It is no coincidence that this proportion has increased steadily as economic inequality has increased. In 1990 when I was born, the figure was just under 13 percent. If we expanded the scope to the full one percent, you can be damn sure they gave the overwhelming majority of dollars in recent years.

Daily Kos, April 20 2015

According to Politico’s Alex Isenstadt, Marco Rubio has him a Super-PAC sugar daddy who’s going to race past the records set by Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess in personal investments in presidential candidates last time out, in part because said sugar daddy, an 82-year old billionaire named Norman Braman, is motivated not just by love for Rubio but by a serious grudge against Jeb Bush:

The Miami businessman, Braman’s friends say, is considering spending anywhere from $10 million to $25 million — and possibly even more — on Rubio’s behalf, a cash stake that could potentially alter the course of the Republican race by enabling the Florida senator to wage a protracted fight for the nomination.

Washington Monthly

"We will support whoever the candidate is," David Koch said to donors at a fundraising event hosted by the New York State Republican Party on Monday, according to The New York Times. "But it should be Scott Walker."

Talking Points Memo

Now here's a new wrinkle: Jeb Bush is planning to outsource the entirety of the part of his campaign that engages with the electorate to his Super PAC. Mail, TV ads, get-out-the-vote ... all passed off to paid professional consultants. How smooth. This innovative arrangement would get rid of any limits to the contributions of plutocrats and even avoid the minor annoyance of reporting who is paying for the campaign. The candidate presumably would just travel about a bit, tooting his horn, while most of the work went on without his participation.

Jeb Bush is preparing to embark on an experiment in presidential politics: delegating many of the nuts-and-bolts tasks of seeking the White House to a separate political organization that can raise unlimited amounts of campaign cash.

... The architects of the plan believe the super PAC's ability to legally raise unlimited amounts of money outweighs its primary disadvantage, that it cannot legally coordinate its actions with Bush or his would-be campaign staff.

... The exact design of the strategy remains fluid as Bush approaches an announcement of his intention to run for the Republican nomination in 2016. But at its center is the idea of placing Right to Rise in charge of the brunt of the biggest expense of electing Bush: television advertising and direct mail.

Right to Rise could also break into new areas for a candidate-specific super PAC, such as data gathering, highly individualized online advertising and running phone banks. Also on the table is tasking the super PAC with crucial campaign endgame strategies: the operation to get out the vote and efforts to maximize absentee and early voting on Bush's behalf.

Talking Points Memo

Note that all the noisy and fractious apparatus of political party leaders and local honchos would thus be bypassed. Also bypassed, ideologically motivated citizen participation. This setup certainly would make a campaign easier to manage.

But consider this, from Walter Shapiro, a veteran journalist/observer of U.S. presidential politics:

If Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign is remembered at all, it's for the weirdness ...When Perot announced on the Larry King show in February 1992 that he would run for president and spend what it takes if supporters would put him on the ballot in all 50 states, he touched off a populist uprising. By May, Perot was leading the three-way field in a Time/CNN poll with 33 percent of vote with Bush at 28 percent and Clinton, the de facto Democratic nominee, at 24 percent. ... The Perot soufflé, which fell as fast as it rose, serves as a reminder of the theoretical vulnerability of the two-party system to a free-spending outsider.

... Until the Citizens United decision, the only practical way to run for president as an independent was to be a billionaire self-funder like Perot. For there was no plausible way for someone operating outside the traditional party structures to raise enough startup money with $2,500 checks and small donations to get a serious campaign off the ground. ...

But the rise of Super PACs -- and the loose regulation that has allowed them to become surrogate presidential campaigns -- has changed the equation. ...

Sooner or later, a public figure far steadier than Perot and armed with Super PAC money is going to follow the same trail.

It seems to me that a party which has driven itself into an unpopular cul-de-sac would be ripe for a billionaire breakaway like this. Which Republican plutocrat will be first to decide that he could run the United States better than any of these hired clowns?

Like Perot, who ran a strange one-note candidacy against the deficit, such a plutocrat could break the ideological logjam within which Republicans have enmeshed themselves to promote whatever personal hobby horse drove his investment in the process. Disaffected voters might flock to such a person -- at least for awhile. Would traditional party loyalties overcome the excitement of what seemed a possible alternative?

I don't see anything like this is 2016; our plutocrats are placing their bets and parties and candidates still matter. But in 2020? Or 2024 if our democratic process still seems as stuck as it is today?

Republicans seem far more vulnerable to this fate than today's Democrats. The donkey party is mostly pretty united around a quasi-populist domestic agenda. Now if Hillary ginned up yet another war, all bets are off. Off -- except perhaps hindered because the Democrats as not currently as well supplied with self-centered billionaires. Republicans on the other hand seem to have a large supply of very entitled plutocrats.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Six shots in the back; we say FIGHT BACK!

Neighbors marched through the Mission last night, from the Folsom Street address where police shot Guatemalan immigrant Amilcar Perez-Lopez in February to the local cop shop.

Neighbors are still stunned.

Yesterday lawyers for the man's family filed a federal lawsuit, based on the results of an autopsy showing that Amilcar's wounds were all from behind and backed by eyewitness testimony that he was running away, possibly in confusion from men he did not know were police.

Elvira and Refugio Nieto (parents of a previous recent SFPD victim) listen along with Fr. Richard Smith and Francisco Herrera while Madre Anna Lange-Soto offered prayers.

From the sidewalk, a bystander cheers the marchers on. These things happen too often in the 'hood.

Good account from Mission Local.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I wouldn't want to meet this in a dark alley

Played hookie today and ran some Marin Headlands trails. This guy thought I was threatening and chased me, ruffling his feathers threateningly, for about 100 yards.

Friday cat blogging

Morty seems to be believe that knitters require close supervision. Occasional interventions leave damp, snarled yarn.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A lurch in the right direction

The Times reports Democrats Are Rallying Around $12 Wage Floor. It's worth noting this doesn't spring from a sudden excess goodness of their hearts. Working people who need a living wage have been agitating and have forced their way on to the agenda.

And so, we get this:

In a sign that the $12 figure could define the lower end of the debate within the party, Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont, one of the chamber’s more liberal members, held a rally with low-wage workers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to lift pay for employees of federal contractors to at least $15 an hour.

“Pretty much anyone who enters the 2016 cycle not at least talking about $12 an hour is way behind the times,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a grass-roots organizing group with nearly one million members. “It’s the equivalent of entering 2016 talking about civil unions.”

It's become hard to remember that Adam Green's simile would have seemed mad just four years ago. Politics is not linear. It can take unexpected lurches, for ill or for good.

Noted in the 'hood: YOLO

The Mission's quality of artistic philosophic commentary remains high, for all the dramatic changes brought by the tech money.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A seasonal decision

Okay -- I get it. I have to buy only organic strawberries, out of concern for the people who work and live in the fields, Those other strawberries aren't likely to kill me, but they are poisoning people in central California.

Lots more here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Out of silence: gay Anglo-Catholics

This is part 2 of my discussion of Silence: A Christian History by Diarmaid MacCulloch. You can find a further definition of Nicodemism in the first part.

Some gay Anglicans have adopted Aelred of Rievaulx.
MacCulloch explains in the introduction that he brings a biographical advantage to his subject of silences in Christianity:
Through my historical career, I have been keenly aware of the importance of silence in human affairs, for a good biographical reason: from an early age, I was conscious of being gay,... In the Britain of half a century ago, gay teenagers were keenly aware of what could not be said; of when to be silent and of how to convey messages in other ways. In much of the rest to the world, depressingly, those skills are still necessary. ... This life-experience has left me alert to the ambiguities and multiple meanings of texts, and to the ambiguities and multiple meanings in the behavior of people around me.
In particular, he devotes a small subsection of this fascinating book to what he labels "a Nicodemite homosexual sub-culture within High Church Anglicanism or Anglo-Catholicism."
It has been a voice within the Anglo-Catholic movement which ... is simultaneously audible to those with ears to hear, and not heard by others. ... Gay male Anglo-Catholicism (traditionally lesbians have seldom been shown hospitality) is a perfect example of Christian Nicodemism ...
These men had considerable intellectual and spiritual influence within the Church of England. How this came about and what it meant in practice is fascinating:
...the modern Western Enlightenment form [of homosexuality], centring on same-sex relationships between equals, is first detectable from the 1690s, with the Netherlands and England pioneering what became a more general phenomenon. ... nevertheless, a homosexual subculture could not immediately find a home in the eighteenth century within the Protestant Church of England. Gay activity associated with English churchmen was of the variety which still sells the Sunday tabloids ...

The change came with the Oxford Movement [in the mid-nineteenth century]. ...they sought a new identity for the Church of England, although of course, in their eyes, their campaign was the rediscovery of an old identity. They aimed to make the Church 'Catholic' in far closer approximation to the Church of Rome than would have been tolerated by earlier High Churchpeople in England, Ireland and Scotland, who generally still gloried in the name of Protestant.

... It is indeed that very emphasis on clerical celibacy which is key to understanding why homosexual men gravitated to Anglo-Catholicism as promptly as they did. [Anglo-Catholics founded learned seminaries.] ...The result was a professionally trained clergy: Victorian England's only profession in which, thanks to the Anglo-Catholics, lifelong abstention from marriage did not cause too much raising of eyebrows. Anglican priesthood was a safe haven for those who found that abstention personally congenial....

... the early clergy of the Oxford Movement were commonly rebels by temperament, conscious that they were overturning the complacent certainties to their day. They were as a consequence likely to be powerful, charismatic personalities, who attracted admirers to their churches and the doctrine which they preached. Another borrowing from Rome which they introduced to the Church of England was individual auricular confession. That caused terrible fears for the moral welfare of young ladies in many a Victorian paterfamilias, but it is likely that the silence of the confessional was much more significant in building up some sort of self-awareness in confused homosexual males, as they talked through their personal confusions to those whom they trusted, in the secure knowledge that what they said would not be repeated, and felt their isolation evaporate in the presence of the like-minded.
These men created a party within the Church of England which stood for liturgical forms that they claimed derived from the early church. They were highly educated. Many worked in churches in the slums -- possibly because more conventional bishops were unwilling to have them in respectable, visible churches. There were even Christian socialists among them. Some, including their early leader John Henry Newman, defected to the Roman Church, but those who stayed retained considerable stature.

They could be très gai. In the early years of the twentieth century, the novelist Compton MacKenzie satirized an Anglo-Catholic environment in his novel Sinister Street according to MacCulloch.
Mackenzie portrays what amounts to a pick-up of the teenage hero Michael at Solemn Evensong by a slightly older bank-clerk called Prout, closely followed by Michael's initiation as a processional torch-bearer into the exotic world of the Anglo-Catholic sacristy: "The sacristy was crowded with boys in scarlet cassocks and slippers and zuchettos, quarrelling about their cotas and arguing about their heights. Everybody had a favorite banner which he wanted to escort and, to complicate matters still farther, everybody had a favorite companion by whose side he wished to walk."

... Anglo-Catholicism was fun, hospitable to extrovert mischief in its ritual, and generally full of delight at the annoyance that it caused bishops by its extravagant borrowings from Roman Catholic ritual. Clerical studies and drawing rooms frequently resounded with howls of laughter at the latest expression of episcopal or archidiaconal outrage.

Not all was laughter. ... Gay Anglo-Catholic clergy, pledged by their vocation to preach truth and integrity, constantly faced the debilitating necessity of compromising their integrity by concealing a major part of the truth about themselves. It was the same cruelty of concealment that crypto-Jews had faced in medieval Spain. It is a structural affliction for an Nicodemites ...
When Rome opened up somewhat to modernity in the Second Vatican Council and a gay liberation movement that included lesbians seized public space in the 1960s and after, Anglo-Catholic Nicodemites found themselves at sea. MacCulloch quotes an observer who concluded that their world had become a cul-de-sac of "gin, lace, and backbiting." Many went off to become celibate Roman Catholic priests, while the modern Church of England fumbled haltingly toward creating women bishops. MacCulloch notes
After a century and a half, as the various parties within Anglicanism realigned and struggled over how to relate to a reconfigured sexual landscape, a Nicodemite Christian sub-culture had outlived its usefulness within the Church of England. Its obsolescence has left a great deal to confused noise in its wake.
Yes it has. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- having harbored for two centuries a party of closeted gay men, English Anglicans have had a far more troubled path toward full inclusion of people from all the parts of the sexual spectrum than the U.S. branch of the Anglican sheepfold, the Episcopal Church.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Silences: survival, suppression and slavery

In 2010, I wrote that I'd found Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years my favorite new reading discovery of the past year. It's early yet, but MacCulloch's Silence: A Christian History might be in the running for a similar label this year. This professor of Church history from Oxford is graceful, massively erudite, and gently funny; that's a lot in an historian willing to dance over vast geographical stretches as well highlight moments occurring in three millennia of time.

His "report on silence within Christian history" grew out of a set of Gifford lectures, an annual endowed series on "natural theology" presented at Scottish universities. He's not the sort to be overawed by this academic honor; here's a smidgen of his introduction to Silence.

No doubt many of those at my lectures savored the incongruity of their lecturer talking for six hours about silence, but I thought that the Principal and University might feel that their money had been ill-spent if I simply stood there mute for the allotted time and collected my fee and travel-expenses.

And so he has given us a great deal more. I'll just be highlighting a few of his topics that I found fascinating.

In a section he calls "Silences for Survival," he discusses the repeated reality that religion forced some people to make themselves invisible to preserve their lives. The Reformer John Calvin called such people

'Nicodemites', in allusion to Jesus's timorous disciple Nicodemus, who, according to John's Gospel (John 3.1-2), would only visit his Lord by night.

MacCullogh's catalog of such people includes Jews and Muslims forcibly converted by inquisitorial Spain, reformation radicals who found themselves in principalities with hostile rulers with different religious allegiances, and, interestingly, many of the leaders in constructing what became the established Church of England.

Elizabeth's religious Settlement of 1559 [was] something unprecedented among the official Reformations of sixteenth century Europe. It was planned and executed entirely by former Nicodemites, Protestants who had nevertheless conformed outwardly to the Roman Church from the moment [Elizabeth's Catholic predecessor Queen] Mary had secured her throne. Foremost in this group was the Queen herself ...

Continuously from the 1570s, Elizabethan England was clandestinely or openly at war with Catholic Europe. As a result, it judicially murdered more Roman Catholics than any other country in the continent -- over forty-five years, nearly two hundred, all on charges of treason... Yet Elizabeth's government behaved very differently towards those Catholics who did not seek to defy her as 'recusants' (those who refused to attend Protestant services). Catholic Nicodemites went to their parish churches and kept their counsel ...

What is fascinating about Catholic Nicodemism is that both sides of the new religious divide had an interest in loudly condemning it in public. The middle way, church papistry, threatened all those who were seeking to build and define religious identities in a time of struggle. Mainstream Western European religious commentators, saddled with the assumption of a religious monopoly in society, portrayed religious division in terms of binary opposition, and they were happiest when this opposition was most effectively demonstrated. ... There was an amusing concurrence between Puritans and Jesuits that recusancy was the right thing to do for Catholics; at least, thought Puritans, a firm upholding of the Mass showed principle, even if it was a principle 'verye badlye applied', as the Puritan Perceval Wiburn sourly remarked.

The history of Christianity is full of "things casually or deliberately forgotten, or left unsaid..." MacCulloch reminded his listeners that churches used to routinely deny participation in communion to women who were menstruating -- in sacramental Lutheranism and Anglo-Catholicism as late as the 1950s. Yet somehow this purity practice has simply disappeared from history. In general women's roles in the Churches have been the occasion of many silences.

...the great distorting factor in Christian history, which transcends denominational and many other ecclesiastical divisions, is that most of it has been written by men. The role of women in the earliest stages of building Christianity has faded, as the Church assimilated itself to the customarily male-dominated societies of the last two thousand years.

... [there has been] a consistent pattern in Christian history [from the time of St. Paul through today.] In times of trial and conflict, or of rapid innovation in theology, men fall away from their accustomed leadership roles, partly because they are more likely than women to be victims of male punitive violence. Female leadership thus re-emerges as a survival strategy for the Church: [The violent upheavals of Reformation Europe pushed women forward in all factions] ... Men took over again when life returned to more tranquil patterns, and the Church conformed once more to the expectations of society around it. The historical record was then adjusted to match those expectations.

Protestantism's greatest subtraction of the feminine from Christianity was perpetrated on the person of Mary, whose cult had been such a major part of pre-Reformation devotion that it was immediately the subject of a great deal of destructive Protestant hatred in the sixteenth century Reformation. Even those Reformers like Martin Luther who tried to establish Mary in a new devotional role failed to take their Churches with them, and the studied hostility of Reformed Protestants went much further, much encouraged by John Calvin. ... a sullen Protestant silence fell on the subject. ...

There were other good reasons for a rewriting of history in relation to women. Too close an association with females sometimes caused problems for men of the cloth. [John Wesley, for example] ...

MacCulloch grapples with what we moderns might consider one of the Churches' greatest sins and he goes to the heart of why change here proved so intractable.

Our last example of historical amnesia once more raises questions about traditional Christian ways of looking at the Bible: it is the issue of the morality of slavery. Modern Evangelical Christians are particularly pleased with themselves in having been associated with the movement to abolish slavery. There is a mantra of late eighteenth century English names to recite: John Newton, Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce head the pantheon.... It was a narrative much encouraged and commemorated by British liberal imperialists during the 19th century, providing a fine moral justification for the "altruistic presence' of empire.

... The distressing fact for modern Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians is that slavery is taken for granted in the Bible, even if it is not always considered to be a good thing, at least for oneself. One would have had to have been exceptionally independent-minded and intellectually awkward to face up to the consensus of every philosopher in the ancient world, and the first Christians did not rise to the challenge. ... In fact it can be argued that early Christians were rather better at inventing theological reasons for accepting slavery than the non-Christians around them.

Slaveowners in the Deep South in nineteenth-century America were perfectly entitled to look to the Bible to justify their slave-owning, and they were right to be surprised that other Christians disagreed with them.

It is only in less than three out of twenty Christian centuries that Churches have come round to saying that slavery is bad in all circumstances, full stop. Nowadays, Christians take this for granted. They have forgotten the huge moral revolution that has taken place to get to where hey are now on this subject, and how much effort it took some maverick souls, over more than a century, to persuade fellow-Christians that this was the only way to think about slavery.

... the task of remembering the Christian record on slavery is still incomplete ...

Because varieties of Christianity that arose out of the European Reformation represented a backlash against the entitled and uninspiring culture of medieval Catholic monasticism, their offspring which include mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and even modern Catholicism, strike MacCullogh as "Word-centred" but also simply "noisy." Many Christians in other places and times, including our own European ancestors, found silence a valid and valued approach to the divine. Perhaps silence might be part of what the contemporary "spiritual but not religious" are looking for?
I'll be doing another post in a few days on what MacCullogh has to say in this delightful book about the particular -- very gay -- silence for survival that shaped the culture of Anglo-Catholicism, a subject dear to his heart and mine.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tax basics: better late than not at all

Last week for Tax Day, my friend Kim Klein published an article jammed full of tax facts that we all could do well to remember all year long. She teaches fundraising, so much of her advice is directed to people who ask others for money. But we would all be better off for knowing some basics:

  • Seventy percent of Americans file a short form and, thus, do not get to deduct their donations.
  • Suggesting that a benefit of giving away money is that the government has less money [because of deductability] should not be attractive except to anti-government ideologues.
  • ... any human being who lives in the United States and, from time to time, walks on the sidewalk, drives on a road, eats in a clean restaurant, takes the escalator instead of the stairs, or drinks clean water from a faucet, is the recipient of some of the good that taxes do. There is a giant infrastructure that makes life in this country possible, from ambulances to fire departments to public schools to national parks and more—all made possible by taxes.
  • The nonprofit sector is asked to pick up the pieces caused by poor tax policy.  Cuts in food stamps?  No problem—the food pantries will take care of that.  Terrible public schools?  No problem—PTAs will raise money for art program, music and libraries.  A minimum wage that does not keep you out of poverty?  That’s ok.  Nonprofits will fill in the gaps.

    We have been asked to do more and more with less and less for decades.  We need to stop doing that.

The whole piece is worth reading, including a very short, very clear history of the income tax in the United States.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Earth Day 2015

Here's my friend Hunter Cutting with some wisdom about the looming climate crisis.

... it's actually not a scientific problem. Thanks to work of scientists we’re actually pretty clear what causes global warming ... it's not a scientific problem. ... it's not an economic problem. ... What we’re really talking about is moving our economy from a fossil fuel economy to a renewable energy economy and the cost of that is marginal at best. ... In many places in this country, solar power is already cost competitive at the utility scale level.

... but changing the direction of [energy] investments is a ... pretty significant political challenge. ... Another line I brought from the scientists: "politics is 'nonlinear."" It can change on a dime. ... our ability to change the politics, I'm very confident about, especially when it is in our economic interest. ... clean energy is actually the cheaper road forward. ... we have to change the politics to get there -- I feel a lot more confident of our ability to do that than to solve scientific mysteries ...

Hunter is Director of Strategic Communications at Climate Nexus. We came up in politics together; I trust him on the politics part of the climate problem.
I never know quite what to make of Earth Day. When the concept burst into being in 1970, I was plenty busy enough struggling against the Vietnam war and for racial and economic justice. It took me awhile to know in my gut that all these struggles -- including and perhaps especially the one about how our system generates energy -- are one struggle. Or they should be.

Prominent "No Parking" signs proclaim that we are having an Earth Day festival just a block from my home. I'd tend to take this as a sign of the Mission's gentrification except that it is adjacent to a City College campus. We'll see. If I get a chance in a busy day, maybe I'll get some pictures from the party.

UPDATE: So the Festival turns out to be a mini-street fair with a couple of bands, food vendors, and a hardy string of non-profit environmental booths that are stuck in the shade, their staffs shivering, as the afternoon wind comes up.

I think Hunter would have approved of this guy's slogan:

And how could anyone not like this enthusiast?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Has the man ever worked?

No surprises here, but after successful #fightfor15 rallies this week, it is probably worth getting this out:
Jeb Bush thinks that if big companies have to pay workers more money, inequality will increase and most people will become poorer. If you can believe that, I've got a nice bridge for sale ...

He also wants to raise the retirement age at which we can collect our Social Security.

H/t for the vid.

Friday cat blogging

Nice sunny day for a bath ...

No, not really ...

Both out-takes from the same Sunset precinct (not yet posted) at Walking San Francisco. Click to enlarge.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Something happening here ...

It's not entirely clear what it is or may become, but it does seem a meaningful sign of the moment that ESPN, the TV sports near-monopoly, thinks it needs a subsidiary site devoted to race issues. The Undefeated will launch this summer.

The mission statement is ambitious.

Through the lens of sports, The Undefeated will be the premier platform for intelligent analysis and celebration of black culture and the African-American struggle for equality. The Undefeated will challenge, engage and advocate for people of color in a manner consistent with the black-press pioneers, such as Sam Lacy, who led the charge for Jackie Robinson's civil rights-sparking baseball career.

The site will be anchored by veteran sports journalist Jason Whitlock, who has made a career of bold and opinionated writing about racially tinged subjects.

Here's Whitlock:

Segregation by incarceration (SBI) has pitted the African-American community vs. the police. Segregation has never been a shadowy, impossible-to-pin-down conspiracy. It's been an American way of life. The people who opposed the civil rights movement and the end of segregation did not hold a news conference, concede defeat and pledge support for racial equality. They hatched a new strategy.

Segregation by incarceration removes the offensive, in-your-face, whites-only signs and replaces them with strategic enforcement of criminal laws that: (1) segregate poor people behind bars; (2) segregate ex-cons and their loved ones outside the traditional pathways to the American dream, aka, upward mobility.

SBI is much worse and more corrosive than Jim Crow.

Jim Crow had unintended benefits. It forced blacks to build and rely on their own economic, educational and social systems. SBI is a silent killer with no benefit. It extinguishes hope.

... SBI is why the African-American community is distrustful of law enforcement. SBI decimated the black family structure, leaving our communities fatherless and leaderless. SBI fertilized the cultural rot that makes us believe prison culture is African-American culture.

SBI is why black and brown folks feel they can't breathe.

Not everyone is going to love Whitlock, but it has to be a good thing that ESPN thinks it needs him ...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

#Fightfor15 comes to the 'hood

Here's a confession: I'd had not been inside my local McDonalds since they ditched the golden arches and upgraded the joint, cosmetically. I belong to that happy class of persons whose fast food choices are slightly more socially approved -- burritos and tacos are after all "ethnic." But the place seems pretty busy. Maybe folks need the wifi?

At dawn today, about 75 union stalwarts and friends of workers' demands for a $15 hourly wage and a union marched into the store.

Supervisor Eric Mar and others listened intently to a succession of short speeches.

Activists redecorated the windows.

A worker and some regulars looked on.

Outside officers of the SFPD sipped coffee. Between watching the #Fightfor$15 today and wandering police accountability protesters yesterday, it's been a good week for police overtime.

If there is any remedy for the bleaching of the City, it undoubtedly includes higher pay for the people who do the dirty work around here -- and that will require unions.

The bleaching of the City continues

Yesterday the Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community Committee with Black Lives Matter converged on San Francisco City Hall to force accountability "for the consistent indifference towards issues of education, poverty, gentrification, police brutality and mass incarceration in black communities."

Phelicia Jones from SEIU Local 1021 presided over a wide range of speakers.

Etecia Brown, organizer of December's #MillionsMarch protest presented an astonishing truth:

San Francisco is experiencing the fastest outmigration of Black residents since post-Katrina New Orleans.

Pastor Yul Dorn Sr. of the Emanuel Church of God in Christ, a lifelong San Franciscan, waved his own eviction papers, served today by some tentacle of the Chase bank empire. African Americans are 3 percent of San Francisco's current population, down from a high water mark of 13 percent in 1970. San Francisco sure wanted Black workers during World War II, but ever since other groups have been clawing back the Black toe-hold in this inflated real estate market.

Vanessa Banks is calling for a summit in October 2015 to work to change today's pipeline to prison for young people into a pipeline to success. "If you are Black or Brown, you are in as much danger now as your ancestors were back then."

Roberto Hernandez outlined the struggle in the Mission neighborhood where "8000 Latinos have been displaced over the last few years by 6000 tech workers."

Every speaker emphasized that, in San Francisco, the economic gulf between the affluent few (mostly white) and the less fortunate many (frequently of color) is yawning -- and growing. And the City is doing nothing about it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lessons for empires and democracies

I just breezed through (by ear, read by the author) David McCullough's 1776. I'm not going to do one of my typical book posts. This is a pretty straightforward military history of the tough campaigns that newly-installed U.S. commander George Washington led, suffered through, and survived in the year of the thirteen colonies' Declaration of Independence. Somewhat to my surprise, I enjoyed it very much. Having spent some time driving about the east coast last summer, I was reminded of places -- battlefields and towns -- I'd forgotten in over 40 years residence on the west coast.

The book convinced me that even in the 18th century, it was already the case that an imperial power could not enforce its will on a faraway land whose inhabitants were determined not to ruled from abroad and who were fortunate enough to be reasonably well equipped and led. What Stephen Walt wrote recently about modern U.S. failures in counterinsurgency wars (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) is not really different from what the British were shocked to encounter on the American continent n 1776.

COIN is very hard because it requires local knowledge that U.S. forces invariably lack, and because a large foreign military presence triggers local resentments and produces a raft of unintended consequences.

Successful COIN also requires reliable local partners, who are usually absent (if the locals were competent and reliable, they wouldn’t need help).

Moreover, COIN is an expensive and time-consuming strategy that is normally conducted in places of modest strategic value. Because it is hard to justify big expenditures of blood or treasure for relatively small stakes, public support inevitably erodes over time. The insurgents know that Uncle Sam will eventually go home and that they can simply wait us out. Bottom line: The idea that the United States can or must master the art of counterinsurgency is absurd.

So the Brits learned despite their best efforts between 1775 and 1783. The war did cost the colonies the lives of one percent of their populations, something we easily forget at over 200 years distance.

I also was reminded by McCullough's narrative how fortunate the emerging American colonial project was that its political representatives put their trust in a general whose role model was the Roman dictator Cincinnatus. (Here I'm presenting my own thinking, not McCullough's in this book.) After leading the Romans to victory, Cincinnatus distinguished himself by resigning his authority and returning to his farm, thereby becoming the Roman ideal of virtuous leadership.

Whatever his other gifts (McCullough enumerates many) George Washington seems to have been extremely sensitive to keeping the good opinion of those he thought to be the right sort of people. And that meant he seems never to have considered using his unique national esteem to become a Napoleon. Our ancestors got very lucky.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Another opening day

Here's to another great season!

Should we blame religions for violence?

That learned and prolific chronicler of religions, Karen Armstrong, keeps hearing the same pronouncement wherever she goes:

... In the West the idea that religion is inherently violent is now taken for granted and seems self-evident. ... "Religion has been the cause of all the major wars in history." I have heard this sentence recited like a mantra by American commentators and psychiatrists, London taxi drivers and Oxford academics. It is an odd remark. ...

Her new book, Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, she aims to evaluate the historical truth of this declaration.

For this project, she first surveys truly ancient belief systems -- Central Asian Zoroastrianism, Aryan tenets developed on the Indian subcontinent, and the Chinese Daoist and Confucian principles -- before going on to look more deeply into the place of violence in societies of the Abrahamic religions of the Book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Of course, none of these started out as what we think of as "religions." All these systems which shaped and gave order and meaning to human life, society, and the cosmos were total and experiential and certainly not creedal.

...our modern Western conception of "religion" is idiosyncratic and eccentric. No other cultural tradition has anything like it, and even premodern European Christians would have found it reductive and alien.

The only faith tradition that does fit the modern Western notion of religion as something codified and private is Protestant Christianity, which like religion in this sense of the word, is also a product of the early modern period. At this time Europeans and Americans had begun to separate religion and politics, because they assumed, not altogether accurately, that the theological squabbles of the Reformation had been entirely responsible for the Thirty Years' War. The conviction that religion must be rigorously excluded from political life has been called the charter myth of the sovereign nation-state.

... Ancient peoples would have found it impossible to see where "religion" ended and "politics" began. This was not because they were too stupid to understand the distinction but because they wanted to invest everything they did with ultimate value.

Moreover, all these pre-modern "religions" grew up in agrarian societies subject to inherent conflicts that embedded contradictions within them. According to the anthropology Armstrong adopts, when humans lived as pastoral nomads, life was pretty much hand to mouth and roving bands had little hierarchy. (She does not discuss whether this equity should be imagined for women as well as productive male hunters and herders.) But with the development of settled agriculture came social differentiation.

... in societies that produce more than they need, it is possible for a small group to exploit this surplus for its own enrichment, gain a monopoly of violence, and dominate the rest of the population. ... All premodern civilizations adopted this oppressive system; there seemed to be no alternative. This inevitably had implications for religion, which permeated all human activities, including state building and government. Indeed, we shall see that premodern politics was inseparable from religion. And if a ruling elite adopted an ethical tradition, such as Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam, the aristocratic clergy usually adapted their ideology so that it could support the structural violence of the state.

That is, "religions" came to embody both admonitions to community, order, and justice alongside coercion, force and damnation. It is through this lens that Armstrong surveys such murderous episodes as the Hebrew celebration of the conquest of Canaan (probably mythical), Constantine's institutionalization of Christianity in the Roman empire, the Crusades and the Muslim conquests of much of the world in the 7th and 8th century.

Probably the least familiar parts of this material to people in this country is her explication of developing contradictions within Islam. Here's a representative nugget describing early intra-Muslim wrestling over the relationship between Mohammed's revelation and the order-enforcing authorities:

... the Shariah was an idealistic countercultural challenge, which tacitly condemned the structural violence of the imperial state and boldly insisted that no institution -- not even the caliphate -- had the right to interfere with an individual's personal decisions. There was no way that an agrarian state could be run on these lines, however, and although the caliphs always acknowledged the Shariah as the law of God, they could not rule by it. Consequently, Shariah law never governed the whole of society, and the caliph's court, where justice was summary, absolute, and arbitrary, remained the supreme court of appeal...

... Sunni Muslims had accepted the imperfections of the agrarian system in order to keep the peace. The Shii still condemned its systemic violence but found a practical way of dealing with [it.] ... Henceforth the Shiah would hold aloof from the mainstream, their disengagement a silent rebuke to [the ruling] tyranny and a witness to true Islamic values. ... This sacred secularism [separation of faith and state] would remain the dominant ideal of Shiism until the late twentieth century.

Armstrong concludes that contemporary Westerners see religion as a source of violence because so much of the world is engaged in responding to the industrial-age secularization of politics that we came to gradually in the 18th century. For the developing world, especially but not only its Muslim peoples, keeping a death grip on the more bellicose tendencies implicit in their traditions is a defensive posture assumed to counter imperial aggression. That is, in this, the Taliban are responding to the same stimuli as Bible-thumping fundamentalists who deny evolution and seek to enforce patriarchy: both are recent creations of modernity fighting engulfing, unwelcome change.

... In the developing world secularization has been experienced as lethal, hostile, and invasive. There have been massacres in sacred shrines; clerics have been tortured, imprisoned, and assassinated; madrassa students shot down and humiliated; and the clerical establishment systematically deprived of resources, dignity, and status. ... Modern religious violence is not an alien growth but is part of the modern scene.

Obviously this is a big book with a big argument. As is always the case with attempts at such wide ranging surveys, I am sure scholars with more specialized knowledge can find a lot here to pick at. Armstrong is frighteningly learned but I am sure she can't be given the last word. Still, if you want to think about religion and violence, I recommend this highly.