Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hang in there, Planned Parenthood!

Abortion is a subject on which I support women who get aggressive with people who want to dictate to them. The cruelty of the restrictionists to actual, living women and kids seems to know no bounds. Missed the pink protests yesterday with gungus still colonizing my head (go away rhinovirus!) but was more than there in spirit.

I thought Ann Friedman did a necessary job contextualizing this struggle:

Planned Parenthood is, paradoxically, both an easy target and an effective organization because it is a brand name. Every year, 2.7 million people visit Planned Parenthood’s 700 clinics. One in five women has sought health care there. Women know that, no matter where they are in the country and no matter how much money they have, if they can get themselves to a Planned Parenthood clinic, they can get the morning-after pill, a mammogram, a pelvic exam, an abortion, or a referral. Men know they can go there for an STD test or a cancer screening. They provide reproductive and health-care services to the trans community. Everyone knows these services will be safe and, just as importantly, judgment-free.

But it’s useful, especially with all the action on Planned Parenthood’s behalf today, to remember that we shouldn’t need a reproductive-care health-care brand. Contraception and STD testing and abortion should be things that you get from your regular doctor — and you should have a regular doctor even if you’re poor. Planned Parenthood exists because the services it provides are stigmatized and pushed out of the routine health-care framework, or are unaffordable within it. And its brand recognition is so important, in part, because the opponents of reproductive choice have gone out of their way to confuse women by establishing faux clinics that provide no health services at all, and to spread misinformation about the safety of contraception and abortion.  

It is interesting to reflect that this is the issue that would have driven my deceased Republican committee woman mother out of the GOP. She believed in Planned Parenthood.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Immigrants have changed US -- again and again

The Pew Research Center has issued a new report marking the 50th anniversary of the 1965 revision of U.S. immigration law which set the contours of our contemporary demographic trends. The headline take away is that the law revision enabled this country to move into a new and different demographic reality, by enabling migration of more and different people.

This fast-growing immigrant population ... has driven the share of the U.S. population that is foreign born from 5% in 1965 to 14% today and will push it to a projected record 18% in 2065. Already, today’s 14% foreign-born share is a near historic record for the U.S., just slightly below the 15% levels seen shortly after the turn of the 20th century. The combined population share of immigrants and their U.S.-born children, 26% today, is projected to rise to 36% in 2065, at least equaling previous peak levels at the turn of the 20th century.

... As a result of its changed makeup and rapid growth, new immigration since 1965 has altered the nation’s racial and ethnic composition. In 1965, 84% of Americans were non-Hispanic whites. By 2015, that share had declined to 62%. Meanwhile, the Hispanic share of the U.S. population rose from 4% in 1965 to 18% in 2015. Asians also saw their share rise, from less than 1% in 1965 to 6% in 2015.

The Pew Research analysis shows that without any post-1965 immigration, the nation’s racial and ethnic composition would be very different today: 75% white, 14% black, 8% Hispanic and less than 1% Asian.

If you live in California, it's easy to yawn about this -- so yeah, what else is new? But obviously these changing realities are what drives much of the terror that riles the crazier white corners of the land.
When I was accidentally thrown into working on migration politics by the California immigration panic of 1994 (otherwise known as Prop. 187), I knew next to nothing about the history of immigration to this largest slice of an underpopulated continent. This report is full of items that might have given me a fuller picture -- and still do.
  • The new United States' very first law in this area, the Naturalization Act of 1790, "excluded non-white people from eligibility to naturalize. " Our white forbears wanted more workers, but not those people, however defined over the decades. This prohibition was not removed until the Reconstruction era 1870 naturalization act allowed "eligibility to individuals of African nativity or descent."
  • In the late 19th century, the white people of the west sought and got Chinese (and other East Asian) Exclusion Acts. Tough workers from Asia were a wonderful tool for building the transcontinental railroad, but they weren't having any more of those people. In 1903, federal immigration law also banned "anarchists, beggars, and importers of prostitutes." Restrictions of various sorts on Asian immigration lasted until well into World War II and beyond. They were only removed for Chinese when we found ourselves promoting our benevolent variant of imperialism as an alternative to Japan's. Competition with Communism led to further openings to Asia in the 1950s.
  • The Immigration Act of 1924 set a hard cap of 165,000 annual immigration visas, and used national-origin quotas to confine this to persons of English-speaking or other northern European origins. The restrictionists had got their way, notably in ending mass migration from southern and eastern Europe. Pew doesn't say this -- and correlation does not equal causation -- but The Great Migration of African Americans from the south to take up factory work in northern cities might never have been possible without the 1924 immigration restrictions. Industrialists needed somebody in those jobs.
  • The 1965 revision changed all this. Pew opts for the safe explanation, attributing its radical opening to mass worldwide immigration to multiple factors without pulling out a dominant thread.

    Scholars attribute passage of the 1965 law in part to the era’s civil rights movement, which created a climate for changing laws that allowed racial or ethnic discrimination, as well as to the growing clout of groups whose immigration had been restricted. The economy was healthy, allaying concerns that immigrants would compete with U.S.-born workers. Some, however, say that geopolitical factors were more important, especially the image of the U.S. abroad in an era of Cold War competition with Russia. Labor unions, which had opposed higher immigration levels in the past, supported the 1965 law, though they pushed for changes to tighten employment visas. And political players changed: President Lyndon B. Johnson lobbied hard for the bill, and a new generation of congressional leaders created a friendlier environment for it

    And so, in the Sixties, the United States once again affirmed itself a "a nation of immigrants" without much sense of the implications. (I bet the capitalists knew where we going, but it took the rest of us, and the new Americans, awhile to catch up.)
  • Meanwhile, throughout the country's history, Mexican and Latino immigration had been a constant. For Mexicans, the border crossed them rather than they crossed the border. When the Southwest needed labor, the Mexicans served. They weren't included in naturalization systems and quotas. When the bosses were done with them, they sometimes literally packed them in trains and sent them back. But in the new era of (more) civil rights, some began to exercise citizenship. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act sought to regularize the legal status of millions of people in legal limbo; roughly 2.7 million people acquired legal status. They and their children have gradually taken up their role as citizens in the states where immigration is largest: California, Florida, New York and Texas.
And so here we are today with another 11 million people living among us without a documented legal status. President Obama's executive initiatives (DACA and DAPA) have done something to sort this out; Republicans are still screaming for the cattle cars to try to stop the tide of history.

Pew makes a couple of points about contemporary legal immigrants that I found new:

Asia currently is the largest source region among recently arrived immigrants and has been since 2011. Before then, the largest source region since 1990 had been Central and South America, fueled by record levels of Mexican migration that have since slowed. Back in 1970, Europe was the largest region of origin among newly arrived immigrants. One result of slower Mexican immigration is that the share of new arrivals who are Hispanic is at its lowest level in 50 years.

Compared with their counterparts in 1970, newly arrived immigrants in 2013 were better educated but also more likely to be poor. Some 41% of newly arrived immigrants in 2013 had at least a bachelor’s degree. In 1970, that share was just 20%. On poverty, 28% of recent arrivals in 2013 lived in poverty, up from 18% in 1970. In addition, fewer of the newly arrived in 2013 were children than among the newly arrived immigrants in 1970—19% vs. 27%.

Obviously, if you have any interest in immigration issues -- and who can not? -- Pew's entire report is worth exploring. it is highly accessible, full of graphic enhancements, and waiting for a click. Give it a look.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What is true?

As I lie here in my fevered state, I keep musing about this sign I snapped recently in San Francisco's Civic Center.

Is this true? I fact checked the Nielsen assertion. The best source I can come up with is from an April 2012 survey of "more than 28,000 Internet respondents in 56 countries." That's a lot of respondents! The 70 percent figure is an increase of 15 percent from four years earlier. More people trust friends and family than the internet, but confidence in online information is growing.

I guess this just goes to show that, rather than libraries, or teachers, or other authorities, the internet is where we think information resides.

Maybe our schools should start teaching "how to fact check the web" in about the 4th grade? In high school, they could follow up with teaching "how to tell who a politician's programs benefit." These seem to be the ingredients of contemporary literacy and citizenship.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Lest we become "caretakers of ash" ...

Ever since getting back to San Francisco, I've been fighting an aggressive rhinovirus -- perhaps a little token from my 11 hour Lufthansa flight?

And consequently, I haven't been paying the sort of attention I might have in a less delirious state to Pope Francis' pronouncements in this country. Maybe I'll find time to read more of them -- maybe not.

But I was struck by these tidbits from his address to the American Roman Catholic bishops assembled in Washington at the beginning of his trip.

"Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love," said the pope.

... "We fall into hopeless decline whenever we confuse the power of strength with the strength of that powerlessness with which God has redeemed us," said Francis.

... "It becomes even more urgent to grow in the certainty that the embers of [Jesus'] presence, kindled in the fire of his passion, precede us and will never die out," said Francis. "Whenever this certainty weakens, we end up being caretakers of ash, and not guardians and dispensers of the true light and the warmth that causes our hearts to burn within us."

This goes for all who struggle for peace and justice, whether we live within Francis' paradigm or within some other vision. It is so easy to loose the animating love that inspires us and become mere "caretakers of ash."

The photo is one I grabbed last May, showing the pope meeting the very gracious primate of the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden, archbishop Antje Jackelén. Those Lutherans, still ahead of the curve ...

Fear itself

The article that appeared under that New York Times headline sure scared me plenty. Apparently there are a significant number of residents of South Carolina who are seriously terrified by the prospect of some piddling number of Syrian refugees landing in their neck of the woods. Not that there are any serious plans to import these unfortunate people ...

But the fear is pervasive. What has become of us?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Saturday scenes and scenery: Montenegrin mountains

It's true what they say of this country: it's a land of rocks and more rocks. This is a canyon we passed through driving out of the capital, Podgorica, on the way to the hinterland.

The area around Kolasin bills itself as a "world of cheese and traditional family life." We mostly encountered high grasslands, some small herds of horses and sheep, and their herders.

Some enterprising small farmers see opportunity in the passing hikers. We each drank a "domestic blueberry" juice, a thick sweet concoction that reinvigorated us on a hot day. We didn't avail ourselves of the tiny "house to sleep," but it didn't look terrible.

Next we set off to Durmitor National Park to hike around Mount Meded, a 7500 foot peak.

This walk is not high, but the terrain can be demanding.

Fortunately we had perfect weather. This is not a place for stumbling around in a storm.

Our last hiking day was in Lovcen National Park overlooking the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic. This area is lower, but just as dramatic and just as rocky.

All told in a week our little group of ten (3 Aussies, 2 Canadians, 4 Yanks, 1 Swede-Yank) walked about 41 mountain miles. It remains amazing to realize that such wide open country remains in "old Europe" -- though having been there, it is easy to see why it has escaped the ravages of too much development.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday cat blogging: Dubrovnik edition

The medieval Croatian city is extremely cat friendly.
Cats wander everywhere.

The cats are not just tolerated; they are fed, as here by the caretaker outside the archaeological museum.

A little pampering has been permitted here.

Yes, it does appear likely that many have common ancestors.

Apparently there are no dangers here that require wariness.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

About that cattle car: not a far-fetched metaphor

In recent years I've flown across the Pacific Ocean a couple of times. Also the Atlantic a couple of times. But I don't think I've done quite what I did Wednesday: fly 11 hours without a stop.

The trip between Frankfurt and San Francisco makes for a very lo-o-ong flight. In fact, If I had to plan another European crossing soon, I think I'd be open to building in a short change of planes on the east coast, just to break up the tedium.

This Lufthansa flight was on an Airbus 380, the pride of their fleet. The plane really is a kind of cattle car of the air, seating 526 passengers when full. This one was full.

I did not find the plane inherently uncomfortable. I and most others were traveling relatively light; we weren't crowded by bags and carry-ons as is sometimes the case on domestic carriers. The leg room wasn't the worst. And a large crew worked hard to keep us fed and watered. For the sake of distracting the human cargo, good wifi and electrical outlets at each seat would be a major improvement. Air Canada provided both on my outbound leg and they certainly helped.

But 11 hours locked in a small space with that many people is inherently wearying. As a consequence, I'm taking a day off more substantive blogging today ...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How do you think about your gender?

I am lucky enough to be a member of a lesbian/women's group; for over thirty years we've met every six weeks to talk, eat, occasionally cry, and laugh about the stuff of our lives. Everyone should be so lucky to have such friends.

Recently one of us, who is doing a volunteer job in retirement, posed a question:

"We [a worthy non=profit organization] had interns working with us this summer. When one of them arrived, this person announced they preferred the non-gendered pronoun "they" to either "she" or "he." So that was alright. Then, by the end of the summer, they decided had decided to adopt "he." "He" presented himself no differently visibly.

We didn't grow up with this kind of fluidity. If we were growing up now, would we have come out with the same gender identity we have now; would we have called ourselves "women" and "lesbians"?

For anyone who finds this an obscure question, I'm including this charming video which introduces the sort of young person my friend was thinking about.

Most of us were bemused by the question. After a lifetime, it is hard to imagine adopting another gender definition. I'm in that bag: I've spent a lifetime insisting that a person who presents to the world as I do can be a woman and I'm not letting go of that demand. Several others affirmed that they've never felt quite able to fully identify with binary (forced choice) gender options. We've all known each other forever, so these were comfortable discussions.

How about you? Do you ever question the options for describing your gender? Have you ever wondered whether gender could mean something different than one or the other?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Flying about; about flying; about fear itself

As I'm in transit today, Erudite Partner's rumination on how we've all internalized fear that controls us since September 2001 is bouncing around the internet. We're all still living in the backwash of that manipulated panic which turned appropriate horror into an excuse for our government to perpetrate both small indignities and massive crimes against whole peoples.

I still get to airports early.

Balkan beer post

In Montenegro, if you want the local brew, your choice is pretty much some variety of Niksicko. (Yes, I've left off the accents that give that name its proper spelling. I don't trust browsers in English to render them properly.) All are light pale ales, thirst quenching after a day of hiking, otherwise nothing special.

By the harbor in Dubrovnik, Croatia, I did have a satisfying local dark beer, Tomislav, that I'd choose if it turned up again in my life.

Monday, September 21, 2015

About that canal across Nicaragua ...

In the 1980s, thousands of North Americans worked in solidarity with Nicaraguan ambitions to decide their own destiny, despite military interference from Washington. If you were in the San Francisco area, you almost certainly encountered Suzanne Baker, earnestly picketing or handing out informational flyers. It was easy to forget, or even not know, that Baker is a professional archaeologist. But she is and she knows whereof she speaks. According to her bio in the Nicaraguan magazine Envio:

Since 1995 she has directed 10 seasons of the volunteer Ometepe Archaeological Project on Nicaragua’s Ometepe Island [visible in the lake above] and recorded over 2,000 of its petroglyphs.

Today some of Nicaragua's leaders and a Chinese consortium are moving ahead with a plan to supersede the current Panama crossing with a new canal. In the linked article, Baker enumerates many forms of damage the proposed canal might do:

  • Both the Pacific and Caribbean coastal strands of Nicaragua are known to have significant prehistoric archeological sites, including large shell mounds and other settlement sites. Canal and port construction and associated development may well impact such sites.
  • The canal will cross the Isthmus of Rivas, a fertile agricultural zone with a major population. It also had a dense Pre-Colombian settlement and has numerous archeological sites, most of which have been little researched. Those sites that have been excavated contain rich artifactual remains and have provided information that has begun to increase and change our knowledge about pre-Columbian Nicaragua. There are also potential impacts to historical villages on the Rivas Peninsula, many of which retain remnants of indigenous customs and traditions and seem to be integral to Nicaragua’s self-identity.
  • The canal will pass through Lake Cocibolca, the most important source of fresh water between the Great Lakes and Lake Titicaca. Dredging the lake to make a 500m-wide trench many meters deep and the accompanying siltation, boat diesel and other waste pollution, and potential salinization from future sea level rise will undoubtedly destroy the lake’s water quality. There will also be indirect effects that could affect cultural resources. The islands of the lake, including Ometepe, Zapatera and the Solentiname Archipelago, contain a rich legacy of thousands of archeological sites and features, including monumental statuary, thousands of petroglyph boulders, sites with mounds, ceramics and other artifacts as well as human burials that may be affected by the influx of construction workers, tourists and new settlers. Looting of archeological sites is already a major problem on Ometepe Island and increasing traffic will mean increased looting. At least two major resorts and a construction workers’ camp are apparently being planned for the island.
  • The canal will pass through the Department of Rio San Juan, which today is an important agricultural area. Recent excavations and surveys by the University of Leiden to the north in the Department of Chontales have found impressive prehistoric sites, including those with mounds, monumental statuary and numerous rock art sites. There have been very few, if any, archeological projects conducted in the Rio San Juan department, aside from on Solentiname, and the full extent of its cultural resources is unknown. It, too, may have been an important region of prehistoric settlement.
  • The canal will cross the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCS), destroying several major river systems within the Atlantic watershed, including Rio Punta Gorda and its tributaries, Rio Chiquito and Rio Masaya. The huge Atlantic watershed is perhaps the least studied archeologically of any region in Nicaragua. There have been only a handful of archeological projects on the coast and few if any major studies along the river systems of the region. We do know, however, that the rivers were and are major transportation routes and that people have lived along the rivers in prehistoric and historic times. Very interesting petroglyphs have been reported along the rivers, but to my knowledge only one formal study (on the Rio Mico) has been done. There is a likelihood that numerous archeological sites exist adjacent to the rivers.
  • Contemporary people who identify as indigenous, including Ramas and Miskitus, will be affected by the canal. None of these people were consulted before the canal law was passed. This contravenes Nicaragua’s autonomy laws, which require consultation. The Rama people, in particular, have been reduced to a very small group and their traditional territory, much of which has been legally demarcated, will suffer serious impacts. Traditional gathering, hunting, fishing and agricultural areas, as well as sacred sites, may be lost and the Rama-Kriol territory effectively divided in two.
  • There may be submerged archeological sites on the Pacific and Caribbean Coasts and in Lake Cocibolca, including especially 18th- and 19th-century shipwrecks that could be impacted by port construction, canal dredging and additional siltation.

There are plenty of Nicaraguans who think the ecological and cultural costs of building the canal are worth the potential development gains; after all, Nicaragua is still one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere. There are many other Nicaraguans, including Father Ernesto Cardenal, who think the canal a very bad, short-sighted expedient. As it has always been hard for North Americans to understand, Nicaraguans will have to work out their own contradictions.

Graphic: Guilbert Gates for

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A matter of death and life: "Why we fight!"

When Charles Blow sought to explain the mutual incomprehension that manifested itself between Bernie Sanders enthusiasts and Black Lives Matter activists, he wrote:

This is not an esoteric, intellectual debate about best practices, but quite literally a flesh and blood struggle for equal access to liberty and longevity.

In this movement exists a kind of urgency that only proximity to terror can produce, and yes, that urgency can be extreme and discomforting, because it must be. The sedative of all normalcies and niceties are the enemies so long as lives are in danger. The movement is revolutionary out of necessity. Some people operating under those auspices will inevitably employ tactics and select targets with which you disagree. That too is understandable.

But, those who object must be careful not to become “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”

I was reminded of another call to a society that didn't want to listen in another time.

The quality of this clip is not what we would now expect. Videography was primitive among radicals in 1988. I heard the film historian Vito Russo (1946-1990) give a version of this speech in Washington the same year. I've seldom experienced such a sense of seeing truth expressed in a person. This is certainly still worth watching.

Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you've lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices. It isn't happening to them. They're walking the streets as though we weren't living through some sort of nightmare. And only you can hear the screams of the people who are dying and their cries for help. No one else seems to be noticing.

Full transcript

When you are being murdered, you ask who is there with you.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday scenes and scenery: Mt. Tam as backyard

Yes, I trained for this hiking adventure that I'm on when this posts, walking trails in Marin County. This forest is on the western portion of the Dipsea Trail.

In the early morning, there are long shadows.

Generations of trail builders have put in hundreds of switchbacks. It probably would have been better training if I could have just stomped up the hills, but if we all did that, there'd be terrible erosion, so I'm grateful.

Mount Tamalpais is famous for its mountain bikers, but these days they are mostly confined to fire roads. That highpoint in the right center of the picture is the summit.

On Mt. Tam in the morning, it is not unusual to find yourself above the clouds.

Gradually the cover peels away ...

Hey! There's a city out there ...

Friday, September 18, 2015

Not to leave out the dogs ...

It's a hospice for dogs. These people share a lot of love and receive in return. More here.

H/t Ronni Bennett.

Friday cat blogging

She's out there in a yard in a precinct I walked recently, shyly checking out passersby.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

When asking "Who are we?," what about white supremacy?

In American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, historian Christian G. Appy (more here) highlights how post-World War II racial romanticism about a benevolent role for the United States in Asia prepared us for our war in Vietnam.

As President John F. Kennedy chose to stumble ever further into a secret war, he waxed eloquent on the metaphor that the U.S. was "godparent" to "little Vietnam."

It was an appealing image -- flattering to every generous impulse of a great and wealthy nation ... We would only be doing what was right and necessary, fulfilling the obligation of a parent to a child.

We were set up for this patronizing lie by a couple of decades of popular culture in which, if not demonic Japs or Chinese Communists, Asians were sweet little yellow men. Novelist James Michener became the "king of best selling writers about the Pacific" and the film and sound track of South Pacific fed U.S. white people's fond belief that, whatever we might be doing to domestic "Negros," we were capable of warm and friendly relations the slant-eyed sort of Those People.

This artifact from the movie is hard to watch now -- but it sure catches the assurance of superior white virtue that pervaded our culture in the 1950s:
We so wanted to believe that we meant so well ...

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Shit white girls say ...

Eleven million people have seen this, but just in case you haven't, here we go.

Erudite Partner suggested I post this. She uses it in her classes with mixed lots of undergrads. Gets them talking ...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Water: from above and below

Charles Fishman deconstructs this ad:

... The world of water may seem calm now, but it is the calm before the storm. Nature does a superb job cleaning and recycling water, but so does GE. Clouds are great, but nothing beats a battalion of white suited technicians, who are respectful enough of the purity of water to cover their hair and wear white gloves. In fact, as the narrator points out, GE water technicians have only one tiny edge over nature -- GE provides water, rain or shine. Water, from GE, "coming down on a sunny day."

The giant industrial conglomerate -- it makes diesel locomotives in Erie, Pennsylvania, jet engines in Cincinnati, Ohio, wind turbines in Pensacola, Florida -- has an ambitious water division, GE Water, with eight thousand employees at fifty manufacturing facilities worldwide and revenue of about $2.5 billion. ...

... The astonishing thing is, in 1999, GE wasn't in the water business. Moving with quiet speed, GE has assembled its water division by spending $4 billion to buy up five existing water companies. Now GE can make the rain fall, and scrub it clean if it turns out to be acid rain. ...

... It's a funny moment in the world of water -- big companies, water-dependent companies, companies with a particular risk or a particular sensitivity are ahead of the rest of us in worrying about water. Companies are cracking open they understanding of how to reuse water or capture the qualities of water, like heat and pressure, that have often been discarded.

That's good in all kinds of ways ... it's good in the simplest terms of all: When the water crises start to break out more routinely, at least someone will be ready.

But it should make us nervous. One CEO of a small water-related company has been watching GE's move into water with a touch of wariness. "It's like a New Yorker cartoon," he says. "The world is one man, dying of thirst, crawling on his hands and knees through the desert. Just up ahead stands a smiling guy in suit, hold the last glass of water, available for a fee. That's GE.

The Big Thirst: the Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water

For a glimpse of how this works out for people at the bottom of the resource chain, see the short article On Water Scarcity and the Right to Life: Bolivia from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Access to water is a human right; maintaining that access is a political problem as well as a humanitarian imperative.

I wrote a fuller discussion of Charles Fishman's The Big Thirst in this post.

Monday, September 14, 2015

On still choosing to not to kick my habit

Today the sad sack 49ers begin an unpromising season. I won't be watching, but only because I'll be on another continent.

I had thought this would be the year I gave up football. I mean, really, the sport is indefensible. I read Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto by Steve Almond and found the book thorough and fair. His indictment covers the head trauma, the body trauma, the racism, the sexism, the homophobia, the bullying, the violence, the obscene money that flows to "owners" not the athletes, the exploitation of hopeful young men in the college minor leagues, the warping of participants' values ...

The only horror of football that he missed (of which I know) was the exploitation of the cheerleaders: did you know that for some teams these women have to pay to be allowed to gyrate for spectators?

I read Crusty Old Dean on why a Christian might not feel right watching football -- and I had no counter argument. The "sport" runs a "shameless con game" on fans and players, while literally killing the latter.

And I read a long interview with retired potential 49er star Chris Borland on why he gave up the career he had shaped his life around after one successful professional year. His decision was

... a pre-emptive strike to (hopefully) preserve his mental health. "If there were no possibility of brain damage, I'd still be playing," he says. But buried deeper in his message are ideas perhaps even more threatening to the NFL and our embattled national sport. It's not just that Borland won't play football anymore. He's reluctant to even watch it, he now says, so disturbed is he by its inherent violence, the extreme measures that are required to stay on the field at the highest levels and the physical destruction he has witnessed to people he loves and admires -- especially to their brains.

This is a devastating take.

So I considered carefully, and decided I just had to stop watching football. And then the NFL pre-season (a travesty itself) and the college season (also usually begun with more travesties) came around and I found myself tuning in as usual. So in this post, I'll try to enumerate what enabled our national gladiatorial displays to get their hooks in me.
  • It all started with women's rugby. No, I never played, but I lived with an ex who played at a very high level and I came to appreciate the athleticism of this apparently brutal contest.
  • I blame Ronald Reagan for the next phase of my descent into football fandom. The '80s were a dreary decade during which the U.S. funded "counter-revolutionary" terrorism in Central America, half the gay men in my age group in San Francisco died of AIDS, and a President sinking into dementia smiled beatifically. Oh, and the 49ers won four Super Bowls. Yeah! -- there was something to cheer about.
  • And there were friends to watch football with: friends for whom the epidemic and protesting imperial wars made for a strong bond. We are depleted but we still get together.
  • And on top of all that, there is joy in the athletic feats on the television and in the ferocity of competition. When a game is a good one -- and not all are -- that fierce struggle is marvelously engrossing. That tennis match last week between Serena and Venus Williams took me into that state of glorious concentration on strength, agility and courage that I also get from football. Maybe if there were enough tennis, I would switch. But I seem to crave that feeling; it takes me out of all other concerns for a brief period. Am I saying that watching young men beat each other up is restful? Perhaps I am.
And so I'll continue watching football this year, when I can. Perhaps I'll cut back some. Perhaps the truth that I know I shouldn't be doing this will eventually get to me ... time will tell.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

As yet another election draws us into its vortex ...

At Jacobin Magazine, U.S. historian Eric Foner has offered some thoughtful reflections on the relationship of between the politics of moral imperatives and the "normal" politics of elections and policy making that can, sometimes, effectuate some measure of justice. It's not surprising that Foner has deeply considered views on this: he's spent a life plumbing the abolitionist movement of our Civil War era, the terrible war that resulted in the freeing of the slaves, and subsequent era of Reconstruction during which the return of "normal" politics made possible the Jim Crow racial regime, erasing much of the freedom won with so much suffering.

The entire interview is very much worth your while, but here are some excerpts to chew on:

The abolitionists show you that a very small group of people can accomplish a lot by changing the discourse of the country. After the Civil War, everybody claimed to have been an abolitionist. But they weren’t!

There weren’t a whole lot of abolitionists before the war. There were a few beleaguered individuals scattered about, in upstate New York, for example. There were only a couple dozen abolitionists in New York City!

Now, there was a free black community, they were very militant, and you could say they were abolitionists, but I’m talking about the organized abolitionist movement. That was very small. Nonetheless, they managed to actually accomplish quite a bit. They pioneered the use of the media of that time — the steam press, the telegraph, the petitions, the traveling speakers — to change public discourse. If you want to learn something from the abolitionists, that’s what you learn. The first thing to do is intervene in public discourse.

And the Occupy movement — success, failure, gone, still around, whatever you want to think about it — it changed the public discourse. It put this question of the 1 percent and the 99 percent, inequality, on the national agenda. That doesn’t mean they’re going to do much about it in Washington, but it is now part of our consciousness, just as by 1840 the abolitionist movement put the issue of slavery on the agenda in a way it had not been. Now, it took twenty years for anything to happen, but I think that’s something to learn from them, how they managed to do that.

Here’s the point. I am a believer in the abolitionist concept — that the role of radicals is to stand outside of the political system. The abolitionists said, “I am not putting forward a plan for abolition, because if I put forward a plan, people are just going to be debating my plan. ‘Oh, it’s going to be two years, five years, seven years.’ No: I’m putting forward the moral imperative of dealing with slavery.” And if people are convinced of that, then politicians will come up with a plan to do it. That means politicians are eventually going to pick up those ideas and use them in other ways and turn them into political strategies.

... I think radicals shouldn’t be involved in the day to day business of politics. ... Our job is to put out new ideas, different ideas, pressure people ...Sure I have an opinion about it but I don’t think that’s our job to worry about it. All of this maneuvering, “Oh, what do we do in this or that election.” We are not politicians. Politicians do it better.

... I’m giving you a rigid kind of view of what radicalism is, when what I actually believe is that people should be doing everything at the same time. There is no one correct way. If people want to work in the Democratic Party, let ’em. ...

This is never simple. And I agree with Foner: radical change starts with projecting a vision of justice. And then, getting anything done requires seizing as many pathways as present themselves, however improbable they may seem. We always need some imaginative opportunism to go with our moral imperatives.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Leaving on a jet plane ...

By the time this post appears, I'll be well on my way to spend a week hiking in Montenegro. Why? Because I still can. As always when I travel to places where I've never been and don't speak the language, I'm aware that I'll barely comprehend much of what I see; what follows are just the basics anyone could get from Wikipedia and a few books.

Since Montenegro is literally "off the beaten path" for most of us, I thought I'd include a few maps. Montenegro is a tiny Balkan country -- population 620,000; area about half the size of Vermont -- the last fragment of the former Yugoslavia to break away from Serbia by way of a referendum in 2006.

This map shows the country's Balkan context. As one might gather from the country's name -- the realm of the Black Mountain -- this rugged land is off the main track, even among Balkan states. There's a Montenegrin story that when God finished making the world, he had a bag of rocks left over: the result is Montenegro. The country prides itself on surviving as a Christian (Serbian Orthodox) enclave outside complete control of the Islamic Ottoman Turks when the rest of the Balkans came fully under that empire's sway between the 16th and the early 20th centuries. These days, Montenegro very much wants into Europe proper and is a candidate for both the European Union and NATO.

And Montenegro aims to grow its tourist business, as this map demonstrates. We'll be hiking in the ancient forest of the Biogradska National Park in the north central mountains, rafting down the Canyon of the Tara River (the deepest canyon in Europe) and then walking among mountains in Durmitor National Park. The trip finishes with a hike in the Lovcen National Park (that's the Black Mountain) near the town of Budva on the Adriatic Sea.

I expect the trip to be strenuous and beautiful. I have pre-posted on this blog various items that caught my fancy. I don't know how much internet access to expect along the way -- probably some, but one never knows. Anyway, there are already new posts for everyday. I might pop in to comment on Montenegrin beers. And certainly there will be some pictures when I get back.

Friday, September 11, 2015

No suppressing the vote for California!

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has surveyed state residents again about how we feel about our voting participation and arrangements.

Apparently people are distressed at how few people vote in midterm, off-year and primary elections. When asked, most say that if they don't vote, it is because of "lack of interest" or "time constraints." Latinos cite the latter as reason for not voting; white people name the former.

Some of the findings are very heartening because they point to simple remedies to low participation that are already in the works:

Solid majorities support automatic voter registration.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla—who set a goal of boosting voter participation by one million in his first term—has sponsored AB 1461, which would automatically register every eligible citizen who visits a DMV office to obtain or renew a driver’s license. Seven in 10 Californians (69%) and two in three likely voters (67%) favor this proposal. Support for this proposal is widespread, with more than six in 10 across regions and demographic groups in favor. Strong majorities of Democrats (79%) and independents (66%) support the idea, while Republicans are divided (49% favor, 48% oppose).

Californians also favor sending vote-by-mail ballots to all voters.
Secretary Padilla has also sponsored SB 450, which would mail every voter a ballot, expand early voting, and enable voters to cast a ballot at any voting center in their county. When asked about the idea of sending a vote-by-mail ballot to every registered voter, seven in 10 Californians (70%) and two in three likely voters (66%) are in favor. Democrats (76%) are the most likely to favor this proposal, followed by independents (67%) and Republicans (58%). More than six in 10 across regions and demographic groups are supportive.

California has a chance to set an example to other large, low-participation states if we can win these reforms.

Friday cat blogging

Morty eagerly awaits the beginning of the football season, cradling his 49er catnip mouse. When he's breathed enough of that scent, he becomes the last fan asking: "Who's got it better than us?"

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Is Donald Trump another Schwarzenegger?

I often write about how California seems to have gone through the white freak-out about becoming a a minority twenty years before the rest of the country. This is another installment of that plaint.

Nobody else seems to have made this obvious connection, but the question seems worth asking. In 2003 Arnold Schwarzenegger, an unqualified bodybuilder and celebrity "actor" whose claim to fame was his role as the Terminator, knocked off a Democratic governor with no friends. Sometimes voters want a cartoon character because reality is just too awful.

Just because Republicans have taken leave of their senses, most of us still need to do everything we can to ensure that a Democrat occupies the White House. We need Democratic appointments to the Supreme Court, whatever else they can or can't do.

But the actual history of the Schwarzenegger governorship should encourage us. Without any real roots in the whack job cult that is the California Republican Party, that party continued its decline in the state. No other Republicans have been elected statewide since Schwarzenegger turned out to have relatively sane view on many issues, including particularly climate change, and worked fairly well with California Democrats who took over again with Jerry Brown's election in 2010. California has weathered the Bush recession well and now looks fiscally and socially more healthy than it has in years.

Moral: a cartoon character can perhaps delay, but not forever impede, the forces of justice and progress. Not that we shouldn't do everything we can to prevent a Trump presidency. The guy enables white supremacists. But the Republicans are the suckers in this.

Policing for profit

One of the less noted by-products of the country's misbegotten "War on Drugs" and post 9/11 security hysteria is that police departments are free to seize property from people not even charged with a crime. And they can keep it to fund their toys, as boasted above.

The Washington Post ran a significant expose last year. Private "police training" companies have thrived on teaching the game of asset seizure to cops.

One of those firms created a private intelligence network known as Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System that enabled police nationwide to share detailed reports about American motorists — criminals and the innocent alike — including their Social Security numbers, addresses and identifying tattoos, as well as hunches about which drivers to stop.

Many of the reports have been funneled to federal agencies and fusion centers as part of the government’s burgeoning law enforcement intelligence systems — despite warnings from state and federal authorities that the information could violate privacy and constitutional protections.

A thriving subculture of road officers on the network now competes to see who can seize the most cash and contraband, describing their exploits in the network’s chat rooms and sharing “trophy shots” of money and drugs. Some police advocate highway interdiction as a way of raising revenue for cash-strapped municipalities.

If we didn't know before, we know since the Justice Department report on Ferguson which motorists and communities are most at risk from these piratical practices.

The Drug Policy Alliance is running a campaign against asset-seizure policing.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Pay to play in the City by the Bay

Yesterday I attended a little press conference called by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) Action, the Courage Campaign, and community activists to demand an investigation of the "pay to play" practices of our mayor and his minions.They steal the city from its residents and give it away to favored developers.

Intimations that something is rotten under the dome of City Hall leak out over and over. It was common knowledge that when Willie Brown was termed out in Sacramento, he used his mayoral terms (1996-2004) to line his own and his croney's pockets, treating the city as a piggy bank.

An FBI sting operation brought down our crooked State Senator Leland Yee (accepting bribes and gun trafficking!) in 2014. Half the ruling establishment of San Francisco seems to have been implicated in some way in these shady dealings, though only a few are being made to take the fall. In early August, Jonah Owen Lamb reported in the San Francisco Examiner that court filings related to the Chinatown gangster the Feds have charged reveal some seamy stuff:

Evidence from the prosecution of Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow potentially implicates a wide array of city and state leaders, including Mayor Ed Lee, in alleged bribery schemes, pay-to-play plots, campaign fund laundering and state construction contract rigging.

According to a Tuesday filing by Chow’s attorneys in federal court, which includes never-before-released details and names from a yearlong investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mayor Lee, some of The City’s leadership, an Alameda County prosecutor and a state official were all named in alleged wrongdoing caught on tape or witnessed by undercover FBI agents or their sources.

... The alleged misconduct started at the top, according to the filing and its FBI sources.

“The FBI alleged in discovery that Ed Lee took substantial bribes in exchange for favors,” notes the filing, which goes on to say that then-Human Rights Commissioner Nazly Mohajer and commission staff member Zula Jones facilitated those exchanges.

Jones was reported by the FBI to have said that former mayor Willie Brown taught Lee to do business, according to the filing.

“You got to pay to play here. We got it. We know this. We are the best at this game … better than New York. We do it a little more sophisticated than New Yorkers. We do it without the mafia,” Jones reportedly said.

Mohajer allegedly “explained the process by which she launders Ed Lee’s campaign money,” said the filing, which went on to say that Lee took $20,000 in campaign contributions, gifts and trips in his first four months in office. The filing alleges Jones and Mohajer said Lee “knew he was taking the money illegally.” ...

There's plenty more in the linked article. Not surprisingly, the Mayor denies the charges.

At yesterday's press conference, the most poignant testimony came from Betty Mackey, a tenant who is facing eviction from her apartment on Yerba Buena Island out in the Bay. The Yerba Buena cluster has been used as affordable city-owned housing since 2000, but now that the city has fully taken possession of the land from the Navy, it is to be given to Lennar Corporation, Kenwood Investments, Wilson Meany and Stockbridge Investments to build luxury condos.

Tenants maintain that the city should be able to take advantage of the property to build more affordable housing. After all, we own it. Why turn it over to the ultra-rich? Oh, to pay off the mayor's political funders? So it seems.

Mackey waved this chart for all to see the interconnections of San Francisco's rich and powerful looters. You can see the whole at the link. Apparently they are all in this together.

Will the rest of us ever get mad enough to throw the bums out? And can we be in this together?