Saturday, October 31, 2015

More access to clean water leads to better stoves ...

to planting trees ... and to happier women. Here's the logic:

In rural Nicaragua, "cooking" implies at a woman standing over and stoking something very like an open fire. In fact, this stove, on a semi-enclosed porch on a relatively cool day, looks quite pleasant, though it still demands her constant attention.

Sometimes the stove smokes along in an enclosed corner. Women and children often experience high rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments.

Children may be able to gather some kindling. Household members may cut some wood. But roadside wood sellers make a living asking the equivalent of $2 a bundle for this essential fuel. Families' constant demand for firewood contributes to deforestation which in turn leads to erosion and loss of ground water supplies.

So, as El Porvenir helps Nicaraguan communities to help themselves to acquire clean accessible water, an integrated program has drawn the work into reforestation and beyond.

These tiny trees have grown in a community nursery. They are ready to plant.

Families which put in the labor on El Porvenir reforestation projects can receive one of these improved steel top stoves. These use less wood fuel and distribute heat more evenly while venting the smoke out a simple metal chimney pipe. This woman really likes her stove.
Full disclosure: These photos from my trip to Nicaragua last weekend came to be taken because the El Porvenir board and I were engaged in mutual discernment. Would I be a helpful addition to their number? We decided I would be. So after several years of supporting the vital commuity organizing project, I have been added to the board.

Friday, October 30, 2015

In race divide over executions: evangelicals ahead of Hillary

So Hillary offers a cautious politician's assessment of the death penalty:

“We have a lot of evidence now that the death penalty has been too frequently applied, and too often in a discriminatory way, so I think we have to take a hard look at it. ... I do not favor abolishing it, however, because I do think there are certain egregious cases that still deserve the consideration of the death penalty, but I’d like to see those be very limited and rare, as opposed to what we’ve seen in most states..."

Just about the fence straddling I'd expect from a centrist Democrat running for President.

According to Pew Research, only 40 percent of Democrats support executions, as opposed to 56 percent of all citizens. Sanders and O'Malley come down against it, but they are scrabbling for the support of the left-most fraction of the party. Somewhat inconsistently, according to the poll, most of us -- even those who don't support death sentences -- think executions can be morally justified sometimes. But accumulated doubts about how the penalty is applied undermine its legitimacy.

More interesting than Hillary's effort to split the difference are the strains the death penalty is revealing among U.S. evangelicals. Robert P. Jones reports:

... the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—the umbrella group founded in 1942 to give conservative white-evangelical Protestants an amplified voice—voted to soften its longstanding position supporting capital punishment. In the first amendment to its stance since 1973, the new resolution officially recognizes the evolution of evangelical thought into two distinct streams, each “citing strong biblical and theological reasons either for the just character of the death penalty in extreme cases or for the sacredness of all life, including the lives of those who perpetrate serious crimes and yet have the potential for repentance and reformation.”

Yes, that too is an attempt to straddle a moral divide.

This chart shows the divisions about the ultimate penalty within U.S. religious communities.
Run your cursor over the bars to see the percentages. Clearly, all groups are at least somewhat conflicted about what to do with people who commit awful crimes, but black and brown people are a lot less conflicted than whites.

And -- just as the rest of the U.S. population is becoming less uniformly white, so is the evangelical population.

According to the General Social Survey (GSS), in 1998, 72 percent of self-identified evangelicals were white, while 24 percent were black, and 4 percent were some other race. In 2014, the white proportion of evangelicals had fallen 8 percentage points to 64 percent. Meanwhile, the black proportion of evangelicals remained steady at 25 percent, Hispanics accounted for 8 percent, and other races accounted for two percent.

The demographic data unequivocally point to an evangelical future that is less white, comparably African American, and more Hispanic. As whites are becoming less dominant in the American evangelical family, organizations like the NAE have begun to adjust to the new reality ...

... Particularly on issues connected to race and racism, the moral imaginations of white evangelicals have been somewhat limited by a theological toolkit that emphasizes individual sin and responsibility, the importance of right personal relationships, and a resistance to explanations that appeal to structural factors. Evangelicals have tended to see racism as a problem of disordered personal relationships rather than disordered institutions and laws, and they often dismiss out of hand sociological or structural explanations of social problems. But the new NAE resolution has departed from this pattern; in its closing statement, it even connects the issue of capital punishment directly to the broader issue of criminal-justice reform, calling for the elimination of “racial and socio-economic inequities in law enforcement, prosecution and sentencing of defendants.”

... In the process of making this modest shift on capital punishment, the NAE has done something far more significant. It has added two new tools to the evangelical cultural toolkit: a lens for perceiving systemic injustice and a greater tolerance for sincere moral disagreement.

Evangelicals aren't so different from the rest of the U.S population: we all, of all races, have to get used to the browning of our country and society. In the words of the James Russell Lowell poem against slavery adopted by many Protestants as a hymn:

New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth ...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

About time I say!

According to the Business section of the Times:
Sweeping Away Gender-Specific Toys and Labels
“The gender barriers are breaking down, and both manufacturers and retailers are not labeling toys like they used to,” said Jim Silver, the editor in chief of TTPM, a toy review website. “The industry’s learned that you shouldn’t be labeling for a specific gender. There are so many girls who want to be Iron Man and Captain America, and boys who want to play with Easy-Bake.”

The shift is part of a wider movement in retail to blur gender lines, as society moves beyond stereotypes, and celebrities as varied as Caitlyn Jenner and Jaden Smith put a spotlight on an array of gender identities. ...

... the most significant shifts in gender categorizing — and certainly the most debated — have been in children’s merchandise. ... Parents have taken to social media to protest retailers’ overly girly offerings, or to show off their children defying gender norms. Last year, Land’s End introduced a line of science-themed shirts for girls after a New Jersey mother, Lisa Ryder, posted an open letter on the brand’s Facebook page calling out its boy-only science collection. More recently, a Virginia father, Paul Henson, garnered widespread kudos online for his Facebook post about his 3-year-old son, who intends to dress as Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” movie this Halloween.
Toy peddlers who have reduced gender specificity have encountered both support (and healthy sales) and opposition. The article is worth reading in full.
Some of us were ahead of this curve:
Blogger with a cousin dressed for Halloween about 1955.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Packaging the Mission for tourists

It's true; the Mission is colorful. We paint our history on our walls. We don't like everything that happens here, for example police raids that pick up young Brown men. But we're lively.

Several weeks ago Erudite Partner joined a group of her students from the University of San Francisco on a tour of the 'hood. Shaping San Francisco, a "participatory community history project documenting and archiving overlooked stories and memories of San Francisco" leads walking tours in the neighborhoods; USF arranged to make several of these available to students to help them appreciate where they live and study.

The student group included a few young white people, at least one African American, others of various Asian origins, some from Latin families, and EP who has lived in the Mission over 30 years. They walked much of 24th Street, then along Mission St., and north on Valencia, viewing murals and listening to their guide recount the history of the area they were seeing.

Along the way they were accosted by a middle aged man shouting: "Go away, go back where you came from! The Mission belongs to Latinos."

EP reports the students were taken aback, but also had learned enough from the tour to have some idea why they were intruders.

I wonder whether tourists organized on package "Journeys" by Airbnb will understand why natives in the 'hood may consider them unwelcome interlopers.

The neighborhood web-based news outlet, Mission Local, reports via Next Web that Airbnb has plans for us:

The tourists might indeed want to dress down to try to avoid hostile encounters. According to the description,

Airbnb specifically offloads the liability for the experience to the guest and host, saying the contract is made between them and not the company.

The news site Mission Local emphasizes that it is "completely unaffiliated with Airbnb and the Journeys service."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The war comes home in body and mind

Want to feel the disconnect between the tiny subset of US citizens who have been fighting our far-flung wars and the rest of us? Access to some of these emotions is a subject of Ben Fountains's novel Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk. (I think I owe the tip to read it to Thomas Ricks' blog, Best Defense.)

Billy is a young, white, rural Texan soldier who found himself in a deadly firefight in Iraq. He numbly and heroically tried and failed to rescue a friend and mentor -- this was caught on video and broadcast all over the States. The War (Defense) Department and the U.S. Army thought it would make for good publicity to take his squad on tour, including a White House visit and concluding with an appearance at a Dallas Cowboys football game. The experience is mind-bending, barely understandable, and disturbing for these grunts who are haunted by what they've lived and what they know they are going back to as soon as stateside promoters are done with them.

No commentary of mine is going to catch the richness of this story, but I can share some of what I thought were high points.

At the stadium, the squad is feted in the owner's box by "Norm," clearly inspired by the Cowboy's owner Jerry Jones. Dallas haters will love that characterization. Our hero Billy just aims to imbibe as much free booze as he can and avoid offending the exotic humans who want to lionize him.

He nods and sips his drink and makes agreeable-sounding noises as people express their thoughts and feelings about the war. Here at home everyone is so sure about the war. They talk in certainties, imperatives, absolutes, views that seem quite reasonable in the context. A kind of abyss separates the war over here from the war over there, and the trick, as Billy perceives it, is not to stumble when jumping from one to the other.

Billy's squad leader tries to ensure he doesn't get confused about who matters.

“You know that old man you were talking to?”
“Well, yeah.”
“March Hawey.”
“I know who he is.”
“Mr. Swift Boat himself. Dude’s famous.”
Billy stares straight ahead. He won’t give Dime the satisfaction of knowing he didn’t know. “Richer than God, and talk about tied in. So watch yourself around him.”
“Why should I watch myself?”
“Because in case you haven’t noticed this is a highly partisan country we live in, Billy. Those guys are smart, they know who the enemy is. They aren’t fooled by a couple of bullshit war medals.”
Billy glances at his chest, considering his medals in this possibly sinister light.
“I’m not the enemy.”
“Oh hooooo, you don’t think? They decide, not you. They’re the deciders when it comes to who’s a real American, dude.”

Finally the squad escapes their captivity as Norm's latest exhibits and the football begins. They are not drawn into the game, in any case a snoozer in which Dallas is stomped.

For several minutes he tries to concentrate on the game, but it’s too slow, like riding an elevator that stops on every floor. It’s not like you’re supposed to watch the actual game anyway, no, you watch the Jumbotron, which displays not just the game in real and replay time but a nonstop filler of commercials, a barrage of sensory overload that accounts for far more content than the game itself. Could it be that advertising is the main thing? And maybe the game is just an ad for the ads.

I have never seen a pro game in a stadium, but I've been inside our local gridiron palace, Levi's Stadium, the future home of Super Bowl 50. I can well imagine that the experience is mostly discomfort, beer lines, noise, and the big screens.

This book might (should?) make women uncomfortable. It recounts a confused adolescent male's unconsidered and unreconstructed hormonal responses to some crazy scenes. His energy is raw. But it is worth noting that women are some of the saner civilians Billy meets.

As Billy reports to the squad vans, about to be shipped back to combat, he summarizes for himself what he has learned from the squad's home front odyssey:

... oh shit, they’re on him, a group of seven or eight fans who want him to sign their game programs. So grateful, they say. So proud. Awesome. Amazing. This only takes a couple of moments, but while he’s scribbling his name it dawns on Billy that these smiling, clueless citizens are the ones who came correct. For the past two weeks he’s been feeling so superior and smart because of all the things he knows from the war, but forget it, they are the ones in charge, these saps, these innocents, their homeland dream is the dominant force.

His reality is their reality’s bitch; what they don’t know is more powerful than all the things he knows, and yet he’s lived what he’s lived and knows what he knows, which means what, something terrible and possibly fatal, he suspects.

To learn what you have to learn at the war, to do what you have to do, does this make you the enemy of all that sent you to the war? Their reality dominates, except for this: It can’t save you. It won’t stop any bombs or bullets. He wonders if there’s a saturation point, a body count that will finally blow the homeland dream to smithereens. How much reality can unreality take?

The National Book Award selection panel and the National Book Critics Circle thought this novel worthy of acclaim. I do too. We innocents who are in charge need as visceral an experience as we can find of what we are doing to soldiers in our obsessive quest for illusory security.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Nicaragua beer post

One of these days, I should probably travel in some place where they make interesting beers. Come to think of it, that might be the United States at present. We've happily gone beyond Bud.

Nicaraguan beers are undistinguished, though plentiful, cheap and cold. This may have something to do with the fact that the varieties all come from one domestic brewing company.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Wells don't care for themselves

This lovely fence and garden surround a pump on top of an El Porvenir well near Camoapa. It reinforces the lessons the community who dug this well understand in their guts: since they live just down the road from the town dump, ensuring that their well remains clean is particularly important.

Upkeep requires a community schedule.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

All together now ...


Saturday scenes from Carrizal, Nicaragua

Doña Teresa proudly invited us into her home to see the new bio-sand filtration system she has installed with the assistance of El Porvenir.

Fermin explained how households with the system can filter their well water through this inexpensive home rig, saving their children exposure to recurrent bouts of diarrhea.

The householder giggled with delight when she saw me snapping a picture of their astonished kitten.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Friday cat blogging

When Morty wants to be with you, he's persistent. Entire books have been written an encroaching feline assistant.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Who'd have thought I'd encounter this?

When I fly on planes, I read and discard outdoor magazines.

The item above appeared without comment in Backpacker, a mainstream example of the genre. They do know their audience. Once upon a (not so happy) time, we were a movement; now we're a recognized market. I can only hope that many of us know we only got here by being mighty assertive for many years. And a lot of people aren't here with us ... yet.

Air travel hell again ...

... this time to Nicaragua to visit some projects of El Porvenir. Here's the organizational mission statement:

We partner with the people of Nicaragua so that they can build a future for themselves. Clean drinking water is at the core of El Porvenir; sanitation is necessary to ensure that the water is clean. In addition to sustainable water and sanitation projects, we work with communities on health and hygiene education and reforestation.

I last traveled this route in 2007; here's a story from that trip.

Meanwhile this is another surreal experience of airports, planes, security (yeah for Pre-Check!), no healthy food, hurrying up and waiting, anxious boarding lines, luggage wrangling ... Air travel is so convenient, miraculous if you think about it -- and so unpleasant.
I don't know how much connectivity I'll have over the next few days. I haven't pre-posted much (besides Morty for Friday.). Hopefully I'll have pictures and thoughts early on. Otherwise, whenever I can. Last time I was in Nicaragua, the internet was rare. But I suspect that has changed for visitors, if not for most residents.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

San Francisco election 2015

Completing San Francisco's ballot for November 3 (two-thirds of us will have voted by mail by that date) is a dutiful chore. But I did my homework and cast my votes. Here's what I learned:

Nobody plausible was willing to take a beating against our corporate overlords' bought-and-paid-for incumbent mayor. So we have good people (Francisco Herrera, Stuart Schulman, and Amy Weiss asking us to vote for each of them on the "ranked choice" ballot -- sure, I voted for "1-2-3 "Anybody but Lee!" I'm sympathetic to all the more plausible politicians who took a dive; exposing themselves to a million dollar whooping with little chance of prevailing is something reasonable people might dodge. The current charade reminds me of the 1979 campaign when we had the chance to vote for Jello Biafra as an alternative to a couple of right-centrists (the winner is now in the U.S Senate). Those were the days ...

Then there are the propositions, A through K this year. Four of them (A, F, I, and K -- YES on all ) amount to cries from the heart against the gentrification and displacement created by the tech boom. The effort to pass the lot of them is vital to the future of the city. As of August, renters looking for a one bedroom saw charges of about $3000 monthly; I hope new apartment hunters are making over $100,000 annually, because otherwise they are shit out of luck.

There are a few tricky propositions that deserve a little explication.
  • Prop. D is a carefully negotiated compromise with the SF Giants that allows them to build on open port land, including 40 percent affordable rental housing and some spaces that might be within the means of artists. Yes on D just to show that these things can be accomplished.
  • Prop. E pretends to extend openness in government. It's a con. I like the League of Pissed Off Voters description:

    it could create a bureaucratic clusterfuck and allow corporations and Fox News types to carpetbomb meetings with pre-recorded public comment.

    NO on E.
  • No on G; Yes on H Another con job with a counter measure. G would undermine San Francisco's CleanPower initiative in the interests of PG&E; H protects our local sustainability project. Supporters of G count on confusion to pass it. We are not confused and we don't like PG&E.
  • Prop. J aims to help longtime businesses getting slammed by rent increases. Yes. (There can be no commercial rent control in California; the corporations persuaded the legislature to outlaw such provisions back in 1988.)
There is one important candidate election, though not in my district. Aaron Peskin would help restore some concern for tenants and lower income residents on the Board of Supervisors in a special District Three election.

And we need people who give a damn about City College to bolster that board. Tom Temprano has earned progressive support.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A death grip on criminal failure

Yes dude, many people do blame George W -- for being asleep at the switch and giving away direction of policy to his bellicose, authoritarian Vice-President.

The career security spooks tried to warn your brother; "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US" they told him in August 2001. He whiffed.

Of course many of us blame George W even more for continuing to abdicate his role, giving the security hustlers and crackpot tyrants in the Republican Party a chance to run the country off a cliff: domestic surveillance, torture, an indefensible and unprovoked aggressive war against Iraq; the list is long. Prosecution would be appropriate.

Running as the loyal brother of a criminal failure is no advertisement.

Graphic cribbed from TPM.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Schooling economists

Kevin Drum and Charles Gaba look at a lot of confusing numbers and conclude that Obamacare is chugging along satisfactorily, enrolling more and more people who might otherwise be uninsured.

Meanwhile, Sarah Kliff reports that developments in one of the program's many byways are not having the expected results.

Kliff explains: health economists
have long theorized that higher deductibles would force down health-care costs.

The idea was that higher deductibles would make patients become smarter shoppers: If they had to pay more of the cost, they'd likely choose something closer to the $1,529 appendectomy than the $186,955 appendectomy (yes, some hospitals really do charge that much). This would push the really expensive doctors to lower their prices so cheaper physicians didn't steal their business.
But it turns out, people don't treat getting sick as an occasion for comparison shopping. They want access to a medical system that will heal them and they go where they know. If high deductibles make access expensive, they delay and go later -- probably sicker and probably eventually needing more expensive care. Under high deductible insurance plans
workers just went to the doctor way less.
Illness simply isn't an occasion for consumer diligence. We don't work that way.

I find it hard to imagine anyone who was not an ivory tower economist would ever have thought otherwise.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Department of things I didn't know, but probably should have

Is this also news to you?

Through much of July and August the Middle East suffered through an unprecedented heat wave that settled over the entire region for weeks, with temperatures reaching above 120 degrees for days at a time. Factoring in the heat index — the combination of surface temperature and humidity that tells you what the human body is actually experiencing — the feel-like temperature on July 30 in the Iranian city of Bandar Mahshahr reached 164 degrees, the second-highest ever recorded on earth. The heat index reached 156 degrees that day in parts of southern Iraq. You can set your oven to that temperature and cook a chicken.

Israel caught the worst of the heat wave in August, which was the country’s hottest month on record. The hottest single day in most parts of the country was August 16, with a heat index topping 150 degrees in some of the inland valleys. Arguably worse, though, was the freak dust storm, the worst in the country’s history, that blanketed Israel along with Lebanon and Syria as well as parts of Egypt and Cyprus for a week in early September. Dust storms in the region rarely last more than a day, and a storm at the end of the summer is unprecedented. Three people died from weather conditions in Israel this summer and hundreds were hospitalized. Once again, scientists were stumped.

If there’s a common denominator in these natural disasters, it’s that each one sets a new record for the worst ever, except when it’s an unprecedented first-ever. The days of predicting that carbon emissions will eventually warm the globe with likely calamitous impact are finished. We have arrived. The calamitous impacts are here.

The source is J.J. Goldberg writing in the Forward, the New York City-based Jewish newspaper. Goldberg is an editor-at-large of the publication where he previously served as editor from 2000-2007. Before that he worked in education and journalism in both Israel and the United States.

So why is Goldberg writing about climate crisis in the Middle East? Because he wants his fellow sympathizers with Zionism to think about what it means to hitch their fortunes to a U.S. Republican Party mired in climate change denial. He's thoughtful.

At some point, denial of reality, of whatever sort, becomes unsustainable.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Signs of the season

Football, football, and more football ... and this.

From California's drought

Sometimes a sign can have multiple meanings ... noted in San Francisco, near Lake Merced.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Afghanistan forever war

So the Prez has given up. He thought he needed a "good" war and he's lured himself and us all into a tar pit. We can expect U.S. troops to be in Afghanistan for many years, even decades, until the Afghans finally chase us out.

Spencer Ackerman has been chronicling our imperial flailing for the last decade and a half:

Barack Obama was elected to end the grueling ground wars of his predecessor, but he will leave office entrenching a military era defined by an inability to achieve either victory or extrication.

Obama’s decision to scrap his long-deferred ambition to end the US military commitment to Afghanistan reflects a twilight period in US warfare: after more than a decade, military commanders are unable to defeat an insurgency or field an indigenous proxy force and political leaders are unwilling to accept the blame of losing a war or openly committing the US to indefinite combat.

The result is a fudge that favors a rump force based on dubious military necessity and a hope that, at some point, the local force – whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere – will be able to shoulder the burden.

Nothing good can come of this because the "government" of Afghanistan has earned no legitimacy from its population. Those Afghans who can flee; those who can't suffer.

One of our pundit cheerleaders for empire, Roger Cohen, states the domestic reality baldly:

American power in 2015 is not American power in 1990. Hyper-connectivity and the rise of the rest will constrain any president even if the United States, as Hillary Clinton put it, is not Denmark.

Suppose — that word — Obama had been frank and said: “My job is to reduce the footprint of America in a changed world and empower other countries to do more.” That’s a total sinker in American politics.

It’s unthinkable because most Americans are still hard-wired to American exceptionalism, the notion that America is not America if it gives up on spreading liberty. So it becomes hard to find a foreign-policy language that’s aligned to reality but does not smack of “declinism” — fatal for any politician.

I'm not about to concede that what we are so committed to spreading is "liberty" -- substituting "ignorant faith in our superiority" strikes me as accurate. But Cohen has it: this President flounders because the mass of us want him to.

We're going to have to crash a lot further, before we stop behaving like dumb brats with nukes. Any of the plausible successors to the present President will almost certainly be worse. And this one has been pretty bad.

Friday cat blogging

Morty and I feel similarly about having the house turned upside down by remodeling. He expresses his unease by climbing over us while we sleep and grooming our heads. I express mine by complaining here. I'm sure we'll both be happier when it is over. Also warmer: we are adding considerable insulation.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Political insurrection springs eternal in the 'hood

People with a cause and some less than attractive signs are out at 24th and Mission.

Improbably, they seem to hope that you can convert people if you give them enough pieces of paper.

I did not engage.

Like Jim Webb said to Bernie on Tuesday night, I "don't think the revolution is going to come." But then, I don't think Bernie thinks so either; he just can envision ways in the economic realm to make what we have better.

Down the street, a film crew was shooting at the entrance to a building which has recently been turned into condos.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Gender conundrums

Why do women who work full-time usually earn so much less than men? A study described at the Pacific Standard suggests an explanation where other variables won't cut it.

An analysis by three University of Warsaw scholars finds that nations using relatively gender-neutral languages have a smaller gender wage gap.

...The researchers note that some languages, such as French, link specific nouns to genders. Others, including English, use different pronouns for men and women ("his" and "hers"). In contrast, they write, "Mandarin or Finnish have no system of gender identification in the language."

...The result: "We find that nations with more gender-neutral languages tend to be characterized by lower estimates of a gender wage gap."

They admit that gendered languages may reflect societal norms about gender rather than create them. But they nonetheless find a strong correlation between large wage gaps and a strongly gendered language.

This is interesting in light of the efforts of many persons to evolve less gender specific ways to use pronouns in English which we discussed on this blog a couple of weeks ago. This is a tough project. We learn very early that it is essential to identify immediately the gender of each new person we encounter. But what if it is not?

Or am I just reacting to being called "Sir" by an older male clerk in Walgreens tonight? I know he is bored, but hey ... look at the damn customer!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Advantage Bernie

I try not to allow made-for-TV movies to shape my thinking. The 9/11 attacks were a made-for-TV movie for most of us, except the unfortunate 3000 who served as involuntary extras and lost their lives. The rest of us have let that one deform our country to this day.

In the same vein, I don't watch early season Presidential primary debates. I understand the TV news networks need the ratings boost, but the Republicans are just a pack of clowns. The Dems tonight included at least two "candidates" who are barely running campaigns. It all seems a little crazy.

While doing other things, I did check in with one of my favorite bloggers who reported this:

Down the line question: Who or what is greatest threat?

Chafee: Chaos in middle east.

O’Malley: Nuclear Iran.

Clinton: ISIS.

Sanders: Climate change.

Webb: China.

I think I can fairly conclude that all the responses but one are just silly. Chaffee's answer is so vague as to be meaningless. Iran is a third rate military power half a world away that spends annually about $6 billion compared to the $577 billion the U.S. pours into our war machine. We're letting ourselves be spooked by ghosts when we fear Iran. China is a huge country with only a little over half the GDP of the United States and a lot of domestic problems, including unbreathable air. It's too busy to be a threat. And ISIS is a TV movie, only a threat to the United States if we mirror its spectacular atrocities with our own.

The warming climate is the only serious threat to the people of the United States in the lot.

Struggle against U.S. bases continues in Okinawa

U.S. bases on Okinawa, via Wikipedia. "As of 2006, 75% of all US [Forces in Japan] bases were located on Okinawa, and U.S. military bases occupied 18% of the main island."
The elected governor of the Japanese-controlled island of Okinawa has said no, again, to further construction of a new U.S. base. Okinawans have been trying to reclaim their territory for decades. The island is part of the Ryukyu archipelago which the U.S. conquered at the end of World War II. Japan recovered sovereignty, but although since 1945 Japan has been ostensibly a nuke-free zone, the U.S. has been allowed to bring nuclear armed vessels to Okinawa if not the Japanese mainland.

The 1.3 million Okinawans have repeatedly elected officials who promise to oust the U.S. military. These local officials have then been overruled from Tokoyo repeatedly.

The U.S. Marines are not considered good neighbors on the island: they are seen as the source of drunken louts and rapists who usually enjoy impunity from the local justice system.
Between 1972 and 2009, U.S. servicemen committed 5,634 criminal offenses, including 25 murders, 385 burglaries, 25 arsons, 127 rapes, 306 assaults and 2,827 thefts.
The government of Japan, currently in a phase of newly assertive nationalism, appreciates living under the US. security umbrella, especially since they have offshored the basing tensions.

Okinawans are Japan's largest minority group.

I have written previously about Okinawa's special place and its irritants to the U.S. empire here and here.

Construction hiatus

Montenegro couldn't derail regular posting, but domestic remodeling probably will. Or at least it will unsettle the regular morning schedule of posting until the dust clears.

The interruption gives me an excuse to post this remarkable 1931 art-deco celebration of urban construction from a hallway in Buffalo's City Hall. Industrial capitalism sure was brimming with confidence that year, wasn't it?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Why you'd think California's leaders wanted the people to vote!

Might this plea become obsolete?
A law signed on Saturday should increase voter turnout, not instantly, but gradually.

Governor Jerry Brown approved a measure to make voter registration an "opt-out" part of the Department of Motor Vehicles process of issuing or renewing drivers licenses. Unless you say you don't want to be able to vote, when you come away from the DMV, you'll be on the voter rolls.

Oregon uses such a system. Several other states allow people to register on election day. But California is more than 10 times larger and more heterogenous than any of the states that currently make voter registration easy and automatic.

But come on: we live in a society where privacy is on its death bed and big corporations know everything about us. Surely the government can keep a good enough database to allow citizens to participate without having to file additional, antiquated paper work. And now California is saying, let's give this a try! A big try.

The measure won't go into full effect until the state further cleans up its records. Historically, that's not been an easy task, but completion is now promised in time for the 2016 June primary.

Brown also signed other measures to allow more early voting and to ease drop off procedures for mail-in ballots.

People will still need to be convinced that there is a reason to vote -- but we're moving toward the day when, if a citizen decides to participate, doing so will be easy.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

They work on the streets of Oakland

Commenting on yesterday's post about recycling, Terry Moon wrote (at Facebook):

It is capitalism, after all, whose motto is production for productions sake.

I can hardly suggest a better way to appreciate how capitalist production of commodities without thought or limit bulldozes human beings and our relationships than to watch the film Dogtown Redemption which we saw yesterday afternoon in San Rafael.

Amir Soltani and Chihiro Wimbush's documentary shares the lives -- the pains, the joys, the endurance, the hopes -- of some of a hardy crew of homeless recyclers (trashpickers) who survive in Oakland CA by selling scrap metal, glass and plastic. The product of 7 years of following these individuals (one of them, speaking from the stage yesterday, said the process felt like being "stalked") the viewer is given a unique peek into snippets of some unfamiliar lives.

Unfortunately, this special film is not likely to get much distribution but consult the website. The trailer provides a taste.

Dogtown Redemption (Official Trailer) from Dogtown Redemption on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Preserving the earth: not just for rich people

Some guy named John Tierney writes an article denouncing recycling every 10 years or so in the New York Times. The last one is here. Now I admit, I've sometimes wondered whether the garbage powers-that-be every really do anything with the mess we give them in the blue bins. But that's not what offended me in Tierney's latest offering.

What offended me was this:

... it’s popular in affluent neighborhoods like Park Slope in Brooklyn and in cities like San Francisco, but residents of the Bronx and Houston don’t have the same fervor for sorting garbage in their spare time.

Actually, just about everywhere I've ever traveled, the locals were eager to reduce and avoid spreading garbage across the landscape. Now maybe they are just catering to tourists, but I think everyone prefers to live in a clean environment if they can.

Some examples:
On the Hawaiian island of Kauai, there's a gentle admonition.

In a Chilean national park in Patagonia, the order is more formal.

It didn't seem likely that anyone ever emptied these bins in the Argentine town of El Chaltain, but someone thought it worthwhile to put them there.

On the trail toward Mount Everest base camp, Nepal posts formal rules and procedures.

In the town of Trevelez in the foothills of Spain's Sierra Nevada Mountains, there's a public collection point for cooking oil as well as municipal recycling!

Bhutan is a didactic sort of country. At Tango Monastery, there's no hesitation about instruction ...

That's also true on the trail to the Tiger's Nest monastery, just in case you didn't know how to behave ...

No, Mr. Tierney, concern for preserving the environment is not just a hobby for a few rich people. We -- none of us -- either always know how nor always can be as careful of our surroundings as we might want to be. But given a chance, we'll try, and eagerly at that.