Thursday, March 31, 2016

Look which Dems are most excited to vote ...

I have to admit, I did not intuit this. According to Gallup:

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton's supporters are more enthusiastic than Sen. Bernie Sanders' supporters, 54% vs. 44%.

I can only interpret this (without data but based on the Sanders supporters I know), that many Sanders supporters aren't much enamored of elections, period. Like me, they love what Sanders is breaking open in this campaign, but the whole exercise is not their cup of tea.

Let's just hope that everyone understands that ANY Democrat is more in the interest of everyone outside the one percent than ANY Republican. Most electoral choices are about living to fight another day, in some other arena.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Whose religious liberty, anyway?

I don't know if the final decision will come out this way, but this news says to me that the Supreme Court has decided that religious institutions have to explain how their employees can exercise their religious liberty -- which includes access to contraceptives if those employees so choose. The focus here has shifted from the aggrieved employers who can't bring themselves to sign a piece of paper to the rights of employees! My, my...

I want a country where it is taken for granted that women can get contraceptives if they want/need them. The Supreme Court's stance seems to take that right for granted.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Some history to ponder

On March 29, 1973, the last U.S. soldiers left Vietnam. Almost 59,000 U.S soldiers had died; 2.6 million U.S.personnel had served in Vietnam by the time of the withdrawal. More than one million Vietnamese had died in the 17 year long war. The fighting didn't stop for another two years, at which point North Vietnamese forces overran the unpopular South Vietnamese government that the U.S. had propped up. The final fall of Saigon is the source of the famous photo of people trying to board helicopters from the U.S. embassy roof. But by then, our troops had been out for two years.

In those days, when the U.S. "left" one of its imperial experiments, it left. In Vietnam, this was because the other side "won". Ditto Laos and Cambodia.

These days we don't seem to ever get out. Having kicked the hornet's nest, we stay on but pretend the troops we leave in place aren't in combat. A Marine was killed in northern Iraq last week. In January, a U.S. soldier died in Marjah, Helmand province, Afghanistan -- an insignificant place which has suffered from U.S. attention off and on since 1946. Rajiv Chandrasekaran told that story.

ISIS is a plague on the planet. Any responsible government would be trying to eradicate it. The terror of terrorism makes us stupid and mean, as it is intended to. What we need is to be smart and brave. That's hard, but it is the only stance that is going to preserve healthy communities and states.

Oddly, the billionaire George Soros, himself a refugee from Nazi barbarism before he took up crashing currencies for profit, understands this as well as anyone.

Jihadi terrorist groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida have discovered the achilles heel of our western societies: the fear of death. Through horrific attacks and macabre videos, the publicists of Isis magnify this fear, leading otherwise sensible people in hitherto open societies to abandon their reason.

... Science merely confirms what experience has long shown: when we are afraid for our lives, emotions take hold of our thoughts and actions, and we find it difficult to make rational judgments. Fear activates an older, more primitive part of the brain than that which formulates and sustains the abstract values and principles of open society.

The open society is thus always at risk from the threat posed by our response to fear. A generation that has inherited an open society from its parents will not understand what is required to maintain it until it has been tested and learns to keep fear from corrupting reason. Jihadi terrorism is only the latest example. The fear of nuclear war tested the last generation, and the fear of communism and fascism tested my generation.

... To remove the danger posed by jihadi terrorism, abstract arguments are not enough; we need a strategy for defeating it. ... one idea shines through crystal clear: it is an egregious mistake to do what the terrorists want us to do. ...

We can't fight ISIS by demonizing Muslims or shutting our borders to refugees. The challenge that confronts the generation that Feels the Bern is not only to take our communities back from the plutocrats, but also to demonstrate that it is possible to build a society where people of all colors and all faiths can work together for the common good. That's the true threat to the terrorists -- and also to the plutocrats.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Our shit has to go somewhere

A recent New York Times article called our city "the Silicon Valley of Recycling". Apparently our garbage monopoly, the creatively named Recology, is a tourist attraction for waste disposal authorities from all over the world.

“It’s like a modern art installation,” marveled Mauro Battocchi, the Italian consul general here. “So fabulous — the people and machines and objects of our lives all working together.”

Foreign officials and others come here to pick up tips on how to handle their own mushrooming piles of garbage back home. ... One group included Bruno Hug de Larauze, president of the Chamber of Commerce in Brittany, France, who likens Recology to an Uber or Airbnb for waste that shows how technology and capitalism can change the world. Plus, the place is just impressive, Mr. de Larauze said.

“It was the wow effect. It was incredible,” he said of his first visit (he’s been twice), and added with a laugh, “It smelled, let me be frank.”

The article makes no mention of another component part of our waste disposal system: the trashpickers who wander the streets, searching for any bit of metal or other goods that can be sold for pennies to commercial recycling operations.

Friends in San Francisco, Marin, and Oakland can find out a great deal more about the lives of these human cogs in the garbage world at one of these showings. If you can, don't miss this sensitive film.
Ticket links here.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The apparent loser may be the winner

All mankind is forgiven, but the Lord must die. This is the revolutionary import that, two thousand years ago, a group of radical Jewish writers appended to the scripture of their religion. Because they did so, millions in the West today worship before the image of a deity executed as a criminal, and -- not less important -- other millions who will never worship at all carry within their cultural DNA a religiously derived suspicion that somehow, someday, "the last will be first, and first last" (Matt. 20:16).

... The crucifix is a violently obscene icon. To revere its visceral power, children of the twenty-first century must imagine a lynching, the body of the victim swollen and distorted, his head hanging askew above a broken neck, while the bystanders smile their twisted smiles. Then they must imagine that grisly spectacle reproduced at the holiest spot in whatever edifice they call holy. And yet to go even this far is to miss the meaning of the image, for this victim is not just innocent: He is God Incarnate, the Lord himself in human form.

Winners usually look like winners, and losers like losers. But thanks to this paradoxical feature of the Christian myth, there remains lodged deep in the political consciousness of the West a readiness to believe that the apparent loser may be the real winner. ... One of the many implications of this epilogue to God's life story has been that in the West no regime can declare itself above review. All power is conditional, and when the powerless rise, God may be with them.

So opens the prologue to Jack Miles' Christ: a crisis in the life of God, this scholar's own epilogue to God: a biography. Both books treat ancient scripture not as revealed reality, but as literature, tracing the development of their central character, the Lord God. Instead of erasing scripture's contradictions -- the tensions within the picture of its central character -- Miles treats those tensions as part of the narrative from which emerges the story's import. This is how Miles explains:

... when one reads in this way, many vivid scenes are recovered for the characterization of the protagonist that, because they did not happen, historical criticism must read as the self-characterization of an author.

Did a heavenly host of angels sing praise at Jesus' birth as Luke reports? For historical purposes the answer must be no: Angels have no place in secular history.

For literary purposes, however, even secular literary purposes, the answer may and indeed must be yes ... For the literary critic, the song of the heavenly host, no matter that is unhistorical, enhances the angel messenger's characterization of the newborn Jesus as "a savior who is Messiah and Lord" (Luke 2:11). What matters for the literary effect is not that the account cannot be verified (a laughable notion) but that it wakes echoes of a dozen exultant Psalms ...

Miles draws out the implications of his reading:

Why does the New Testament exist at all? ...Literary criticism as I have attempted it here prefers to remain within the assumptions of the story and to rephrase the question as Why does God do it? Why does he become a man?

... And why, if he has to become a man at all, does he choose to become the unlikely man he becomes? ... God's power was such that, in his prime, he annihilated in minutes the mightiest army in the world. More than once, he compared himself to a great marauding beast. Why does he become a defenseless peasant who, when the authorities sentence him to death, offers no resistance and ends his life as a convicted criminal? ... Rather than a further development of God's character, does Jesus, the Lamb of God, not seem its terminal collapse?

Yes, he does, and the condition for a literary appreciation of the New Testament is a willingness of the part of the reader to see this ending as horrifying or ludicrous surprise. God the Son is not at all the kind of man one would expect God the Father to become. ... What makes the surprise subjectively urgent as well as logically possible for God, given his previous life, is that he has something appalling to say that he can say only by humiliating himself.

The Lord of All the Earth, to use the grandest of all his Old Testament titles, arranges to have himself put to death as the King of the Jews not to destroy hope as he destroys himself but only to replace a vain hope with one that can still be realized. The old hope predicated on invincible military power must yield to a new hope predicated on the inevitability of military defeat but anticipating the kind of victory arms cannot win....

... [The story's] effrontery cannot be appreciated unless the God of Israel has first been confronted in all his untamed and terrifying intensity. That of all gods, this god should be imagined to have become of all men this man; and that, repudiating everything he has always seemed to be, he should have had himself put to death by the enemy of his chosen people -- that is a reversal so stunning that it changes everything back to the beginning. The Rock of Ages cannot die as God; but as God incarnate, the Rock can be cleft. God, shattered, can descend to death; and when he rises to eternal life, he can lift his human characters up with him. ...

In this volume, Jack Miles wrestles with the hoary problems of Christian theology: theodicy: why a good God allows evil to win; and atonement: how Jesus' death somehow is Good News. He rejects and supersedes the notion of appeasing a Mean Daddy that infects so much Christian thinking.

If anyone finds Miles intriguing, I'd recommend reading God: a biography first. In that book, Miles convincingly establishes his bona fides as a sensitive linguistic interpreter and as a thoughtful respecter of ancient texts. Christ: a crisis in the life of God really is an epilogue, quite a wonderful one.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday scenes: more Mission District changes

Five years ago, low rent billboards in the San Francisco Mission carried this message. Oops ...

These days the same billboards carry this. A church friend asked what it was, so I did some cursory research. I don't know what "C3" refers to, but the "SV" part references Silicon Valley. This seems to come from a garden variety evangelical church plant aimed at our ubiquitous new hipster neighbors. C3 wishes to assure anyone who nibbles that they aren't in the guilt business. They inform the curious that they are "a generational church." I assume that is reassurance that this is not a place where seekers will encounter annoying old people. The latter impression is reinforced by the fact that they advertise children, youth, and men's and women's groups -- nothing for mature adults.

I guess some hipsters want a culturally comfortable church. It doesn't surprise me that some church would seek to fill that market niche. Time will tell whether this is an upgrade on Harold Camping's phantom Judgment Day.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday cat blogging

Morty knows the value of a freshly made bed.

Good Friday

The annual commemoration of one of history's most famous executions seems right for posting this. Bryan Stevenson has made a life of struggling in Alabama against the death penalty and other miscarriages of justice. This video is a TED talk, but don't let that discourage you. Stevenson is not hip and groovy; he is serious and realistic. Something like half a million people have played this video; if you are not one, this is your chance.

... we have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.

... the opposite of poverty is justice ... you can judge the character of a society by how they treat the poor ...

To all my elder friends: Stevenson frames his talk through what he has learned from elders, because that inheritance is where he finds strength for the journey. In this setting, that's transgressive.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Was Dorothy Day a saint?

As the Roman Catholic Church's process for designating Dorothy Day a saint grinds on, Patrick Jordan has offered a contribution to what will likely be a burgeoning literature about this challenging woman. Dorothy Day: Love in Action from People of God Series from Liturgical Press is a short, thematic survey of her life, the Catholic Worker movement, and her animating beliefs. I think it would serve as an accessible introduction for anyone who might want to know who was this woman who Pope Francis name-checked when addressing the U.S. Congress last year.

In 12 pages of what Jordan calls "A Chronology," he recounts Dorothy's life story in economic detail; I expected to know most of this, having both known her and read most of her writings, but I was wrong. This is far more complete than what I knew and quite fascinating; she lived hard, often bravely, and always vigorously.

From that factual platform, Jordan moves on to elucidate the intellectual and moral themes of Dorothy's life and vocation, nodding along the way to her warm but complex humanity. She sought to live a Christian response to poverty and to demonstrate a way to enflesh justice. She believed that living in and with poverty was simply the only truthful response to our neighbors whom we must love as we love ourselves. But she wasn't sentimental about it:

"In what does our poverty consist?" Dorothy asked herself in 1961. "In toilets out of commission ..., dish washers who wipe their noses on the dishtowels, people who are mental cases."

... When asked one Lent how she could see Christ in other people, Dorothy responded, "It is an act of faith, constantly repeated. It is an act of love, resulting from an act of faith. It is an act of hope, that we can awaken these same acts in their hearts, too."

... she quoted Gregory the Great: "When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice."

This uncompromising credo, joined with absolute pacifism and faithfulness to the Church as the vehicle through which Christ erupts in the world, made her a quirky, formidable force. Jordan recounts the episode in 1972 when she faced down the I.R.S., refusing to apply for charitable status for the Catholic Worker house. Why should we need a license from the government to feed the hungry and share with the needy? When the New York Times and the Washington Post editorialized in support of her integrity, the Nixon administration knew it had to back off and nothing more was heard of that.

Dorothy's own writings in the Catholic Worker newspaper and many books are still good reading; Jordan reports that

I.F. Stone, the muckraking Washington journalist, remarked after Dorothy's death that "of all the journalists of our generation, she wrote the best."

He also captures a facet of her presence that may not enthrall the sainthood assessors but which was terribly important to the young people who came to her movement in her later life: she was wonderfully well read in classic literature as that was understood in her day. Thanks to her, we read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Undset and Austin, Dickens and Greene, Buber and Arendt, and many more.

The U.S. bishops have forwarded Dorothy's cause to Rome for possible sainthood. Some Catholic Workers find the idea of such institutional blessing grating. For others, the idea that Dorothy embodied sainthood seems self-evident. Jordan offers his own conclusion about the question:

"... she is a prophet, an American prophet, who called not only individuals, but the church, the state, and American society itself to account. There must be a closing of the gap between private and public morality, Dorothy taught, and [she] questioned both our materialism and our militarism. ... Further, in this land where happiness is viewed as a constitutional right, there must be a new willingness to encounter Christ in others and on the cross."

Full disclosure: I worked with Patrick Jordan at the Catholic Worker for several years, though we haven't crossed paths in over 3 decades.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Look what Fed-Ex brought in

Copies of Erudite Partner's new book have arrived, though Amazon still says it will be another 10 days before the official launch. Given the antics of he-who-I-am-not-writing-about-this-week since the Brussels bombings, let's work to ensure she doesn't have to write a sequel.

A Pope who offers smiles

You'd think our U.S. politics were enough misery to contemplate -- but no, I thought I might get something out of reading up on some less familiar, for me cross-cultural, politics that only tangentially touch on ours. At the suggestion of a writer at the National Catholic Reporter which I read to track progressive Catholicism, I picked up Pope Francis: The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism by Paul Vallely.

This is a big gossipy book that reads as if assembled from a series of shorter journalistic articles as it may well have been. Parts go over the same terrain repeatedly -- it would have been better with tight editing. But I did find some insights of interest to me that I'll enumerate here.
  • The discussion of how the Jesuit Provincial Jorge Bergoglio, the future pope, dealt with the Argentine dictatorship and murderous Dirty War of the 1970's looks at this contested subject from several viewpoints without drawing any definitive conclusions. Vallely includes a brutal description of the torture chamber run by the Navy and includes testimony to the complicity of the Catholic hierarchy with this regime. He also gives a vivid sense of how middle class citizens of Buenos Aires tried to keep their heads down and just get by amid the horror. Bergoglio definitely sought to keep his community away from politics, especially from opposing the regime in defense of the poor; subsequently he apparently felt he had acted highhandedly and without due discernment, but Vallely comes to no conclusion about his concrete collusion with the military. He was removed from leadership by higher ups for a season, though eventually he was made the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
  • In that role, he was a champion of what was known as the "Theology of the People" which vied with and also took up much of the "Theology of Liberation."

    Liberation Theology had the poor as its primary focus and placed great emphasis on the stark contrasts between the rich and the poor in the Gospel. The Theology of the People focused on the people and their pious practices. ... there was a temptation within the Theology of the People to romanticize the ordinary man and woman. ... Liberation theologians were more likely to concentrate on raising the self-consciousness of the poor; the Theology of the People was unlikely to see the Church as part of an unjust social order.

    Yet by choosing to place himself in the slums, with the people, Bergoglio seems to have been changed by his practice. The acknowledged founder of Liberation Theology, Leonardo Boff, says Pope Francis should be considered a convert to a gospel of liberation these days.
  • On the topic of Pope Francis' famous response to a question about homosexuals in the Church -- "who am I to judge?" -- Vallely turns to the observations of the priest and theologian James Alison about the men who make up the Catholic hierarchy. Alison asserts that many of these celibate churchmen are deeply conflicted gays which makes their coming to terms with homosexuality nearly impossible.

    'And that's why it is such a relief that the pontiff appears to be straight because it means it's not a particular problem for him' ... One Jesuit close to Francis, Father Antonio Spadero, thinks the point Alison makes about Francis and homosexuality is true more widely. ... The criticisms made of the Pope by some conservatives are so sharp that Spadero views the 'anguish' of the Pope's foes 'as more of psychological problem' than a question of doctrine.

  • Vallely offers a full account of the criticisms from many Catholic women that, for all his openness and emphasis on pastoral presence, this Pope just can't see women as full, adult human beings. He quotes a question that Mary McAleese, a former President of the Republic of Ireland, put to the Pope:

    "How many of the men who will gather to advise you ... on the family have ever changed a baby's nappy?" ... Of Pope Francis, she said 'He's a lovely person, everybody likes him and women like him. We love his smile, we love his openness, we love his accessibility, we love his frankness, we love the ease of him. But we also know that that's not enough.'

After reading this book, I'm with McAleese -- Pope Francis is bringing something wonderful to his Church and people -- and he could bring more. But then, that's always true, everywhere. It is easy to be glad and grateful that this unlikely person is there at all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Culturally complicated story

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by E. Randolph Richards and Kenneth E. Bailey is an introduction to applying cultural, linguistic, and what I'd call historical, anthropology to the Bible. It's full of insight for anyone interested in making sense of what our culture's ancestral text meant in its own time -- and even what it might mean in our time to people whose societies are not "Western" -- I think we can substitute "European" for that label. Richards, a professor of Biblical Studies at a Baptist university, had his understanding of the Bible blown up while serving as a missionary in Indonesia. Bailey, a Presbyterian theologian, contributes much linguist insight.

They explain what they are doing this way:

You are probably familiar with the language of worldview.

Many people talk about the differences between a Christian and a secular worldview. The matter is actually more complicated than that. Worldview, which includes cultural values and other things we assume are true, can be visualized as an iceberg. The majority of our worldview, like the majority of an iceberg, is below the water line. The part we notice -- what we wear, eat, say and consciously believe -- is really only the visible tip. The majority of these powerful, shaping influences lurks [sic] below the surface, out of plain sight.

More significantly, the massive underwater water section is the part that sinks ships! Another way to say this is that the most powerful cultural values are those that go without being said. It is very hard to know what goes without being said in another culture. But often we are not even aware of what goes without being said in our own culture. This is why misunderstanding and misinterpretation happen.

They apply this perspective to a broad range of Biblical subjects. Some of this seems obvious: our social customs are not those of the people in Biblical stories nor do we operate with the same understanding of "racial" and ethnic categories. (Think Cushites or Galileans...)

Some of their topics require understanding of far more difficult cultural differences. We are individualistic; unless we are consciously working on a wider view, we think what matters supremely is each of us. The Biblical societies were collective/communal. (As well as patriarchal and sometimes tribally exclusive.) Their chapter on the value structure of honor/shame societies brought me closer to understanding this widespread way that humans have organized ourselves than anything I have ever read. (You don't have to read the Bible to run into this incomprehensible-to-us value system: the Norwegian author Sigrid Undset won a Noble prize in literature in 1928 for the novel Kristin Lavransdatter, which turns on these values.)

Misreading encourages an open mind, openness to different translations, and discussion with others to help modern students move toward a more culturally complex understanding of the Bible. I found their study suggestions worth thinking about and the whole worth reading.
That said, I found this book itself a cross-cultural experience. Richard and Bailey write for Biblical literalists, if not quite what I'd call fundamentalists. They expect their readers to be trying to take in and make moral and practical sense of every line in the Good Book.

That's not how I read the Bible. For me, the Bible is potent story, a sweeping collection of narratives, metaphors, and images that uncover something about reality, wisdom, and humanity. I encounter the book within a community-prescribed lectionary cycle. I'm sure I hear it within "western" preconceptions, but perhaps not quite the same ones as those to which these authors are writing. That only adds a layer to why I found Misreading interesting.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Swearing off the Donald for a season

On Sunday, the season of Spring arrived with the vernal equinox. Sunday also marked the beginning of the Christian Holy Week, the annual commemoration of Jesus' provocative parade into Jerusalem led by palm waving enthusiasts, his last admonitions and meal with his friends, his trial for insubordination by local and imperial authorities, his gruesome execution and burial, and then, the empty tomb. For liturgical Christians, there is no more awesome season of the year. (Yes, Easter is way bigger than Christmas!)

I love the seasonality of liturgical Christianity -- the annual repetition of the stories through which we encounter mystery and our fraught humanity.

In celebration of this year's Holy Week, I'm declaring this blog a Donald Trump-free zone at least until after next Sunday, until after Easter. It is certainly not that I think politics can somehow be divorced from our enduring stories. Politics is a vital and honorable aspect of how we live out our humanity. But I don't want this year's electoral horror show to become a devouring obsession. We'll repudiate this racist demagoguery in our own good time. Meanwhile, I'll relish a week with other concerns.

We sang this poetic rendering of the Jesus story in church yesterday. Audio version here. The author was an English clergyman, Samuel Crossman, writing in 1664. Those 17th century (male?) writers were uninhibited about expressing emotion to a degree that shocks in our anxious and ironic time. I delight that this is preserved among us.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Vocation interrupted

Among the varieties of physicians -- internists, anesthesiologists, dermatologists, etc. -- surgeons have the reputation for being a bit brutish. After all, for all the high tech wizardry of modern medicine, their craft includes cutting into human bodies, drilling holes in skulls, setting screws into bones and so on. That work does not seem to commonly induce empathy. So one does not expect to encounter a surgeon, even one who works on brains, writing reflections like this:

I don't think I ever spent a minute of any day wondering why I did this work or whether it was worth it. The call to protect life -- and not merely life but another's identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another's soul -- was obvious in its sacredness.

Before operating on a patient's brain, I realized, I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what make his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible; in taking up another's cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.

Dr. Paul Kalanithi was a 36 year old neurosurgeon who was just graduating from ten years of medical and specialist training and residencies when he was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. He didn't have the option of learning gradually what that meant; he knew immediately his chances of survival were very poor. One day he was on the threshold of a brilliant and absorbing vocation; the next he was a patient, dependent on what others could do for him as he struggled for life and purpose.

When Breath Becomes Air is his memoir of a youth in the desert in Kingman, Arizona; of sampling literature and neurobiology at Stanford; and of his choice to leave the study of literature and philosophic abstraction:

Words began to feel as weightless as the breath that carried them. Stepping back, I realized that I was merely confirming what I already knew: I wanted that direct experience. It was only in practicing medicine that I could pursue a serious biological philosophy. Moral speculation was puny compared to moral action.

Kalanithi died in March 2015. During his two years fighting the cancer, he finished his neurosurgery residency, fathered a daughter, strengthened his family ties, and wrote this book. His life had been about trying to figure out what it all meant; so is his account of his own road to death.

This is a beautiful little book, full of gems, of lapidary descriptions of moments of experience. I read it first by ear, but ended up buying a hard copy: I needed to be able to lend it to friends. I don't do that often.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A "marriage" of Bayview and the Mission

Supporters of the three recent victims of San Francisco's trigger-happy killer cops came together on City Hall steps on Friday in a display of Black-Brown unity they called something like a "marriage" of just causes.

Minister Christopher Muhammad from the Nation of Islam in the Bayview warned city leaders that the communities will hold them accountable, flanked by the parents of Alex Nieto from the Bernal Hill area of the Mission District.

Felicia Jones from Local 1021 SEIU led chants calling for firing Police Chief Greg Suhr and other officers who threaten and disrespect people in the communities.

Fr. Richard Smith spoke for the coalition seeking justice and compensation for the parents of undocumented worker Amilcar Perez Lopez shot in the back in the Mission.

There's deep determination in this city to carry this fight forward -- diverse communities united in seeking justice.

Justice 4 Mario Woods Coalition
Justice 4 Alex Nieto
Justice 4 Amilcar Perez-Lopez

Friday, March 18, 2016

Here's an appointment for June 26

Guess I'll have to go. Not my favorite event, but I like this better than 50 corporate floats ...

Full story from Colorlines.

Friday cat blogging

Back by popular demand, here's Morty surveying his domain.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

We cannot sanitize this!

This is what happens when we continue to believe we need a death penalty.

Ohio Supreme Court says state can try to execute an inmate again after failed attempt

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the state could try to execute an inmate who authorities tried to execute in 2009, only for the execution attempt to fail.

... “When the execution team was unable to establish IV lines, the attempt to execute [Romell] Broom was halted,” Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote in an opinion joined by three other justices. “Because the lethal-injection drugs were never introduced into the IV lines, the execution was never commenced.”

... “I believe as a moral and constitutional matter that subjecting Broom to a second execution attempt after even one extremely painful and unsuccessful attempt is precisely the sort of ‘lingering death’ that the United States Supreme Court recognized as cruel within the meaning of the Eighth Amendment 125 years ago,” [Justice William M.] O’Neill wrote [in a dissent].

...During his scheduled lethal injection on Sept. 15, 2009, prison officials authorities spent two hours trying and failing to find a usable vein, making at least 10 attempts to insert the IV and causing Broom to repeatedly grimace in pain, witnesses said. ...

Californians will have another opportunity to end the risk that we'll be complicit in this sort of barbarism through an initiative on the November election ballot.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Senate up for grabs: here's the list

For shits, giggles, my own edification and convenience, I decided to spend a primary evening assembling a list of what we know about the November races that matter almost as much as the presidential contest. These Senate races that will determine which party controls the chamber and hence nominations of Supreme Court justices. At present, the Republicans have a 54-46 margin there. Democrats need at least four pickups (and a Dem vice president to break ties) for a winning margin.

This is possible, though not easy. There is considerable electoral history which suggests that Senate races, though they take place in very different states, tend to break similarly across the country in any particular year. (The only time I worked in a Senate race, Vermont 1970, we got swept up in such a debacle and lost anti-Vietnam war Democratic senators across the country.) This could be a promising year for a very strong Democratic showing depending how much of an additional mess the GOP makes of its presidential race

There are a few places where Democrats have to hold on to contested seats in contests that could make winning a majority harder.
  • Nevada: That unpopular political wizard Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is retiring. He looks to have cleared the field for a former state attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto. The state has been voting Democratic in presidential elections, but also currently has elected a Republican governor, so it could swing either way. This one is no shoo-in.
  • Colorado: Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet could be endangered if this battleground state went to the Republican presidential nominee -- but it probably won't.
Then there are several states where Democrats have a good chance to pick up a seat.
  • Wisconsin: This state voted by 53% for Obama in 2012, elected a lesbian Democratic senator the same year -- and keeps returning Mr. Union Buster Republican Scott Walker as governor in off years. Go figure. Former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold who lost his 2010 re-election bid is trying to take the seat back this year and has consistently led the Republican opponent in early polling. This one looks good unless Wisconsin swings away from the Dems in the presidential.
  • Florida: Republican Senator Marco Rubio rolled the dice on winning the presidential nomination and announced he would not run for re-election. We will now see whether he keeps that promise as the filing deadline is not until early May. He seems pretty damaged goods. Two major Democratic candidates are fighting for that nomination in a late August primary: Congressman Patrick Murphy has the support of the Democratic establishment. Congressman Alan Grayson is running an anti-establishment campaign. During the Obamacare debate, he thrilled many of us by baldly pointing out that the Republican healthcare plan could be summarized as "Die Quickly." His Cayman Islands hedge funds have damped some of that enthusiasm. The Republican field is huge and split, also facing an August 30 primary. Florida will be a presidential battleground state; Obama won it twice, very narrowly. This one is genuinely unpredictable.
  • Illinois: Republican Senator Mark Kirk currently holds the seat that once was Obama's. Congresswoman and Iraq vet Tammy Duckworth won her primary yesterday and she aims to win it back. Her chances look good.
Three Republican seats are in play that might be out of reach in a non-presidential year.
  • New Hampshire: Popular Democratic governor Maggie Hassan aims to unseat Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte. Obama won this state twice, but it is swingy down-ballot.
  • Ohio: Former Democratic governor Ted Strickland won his primary yesterday. Obama won this state too, but again it is swingy down-ballot. Strickland faces Republican incumbent Rob Portman.
  • Pennsylvania: Another state that usually votes Democratic for president, it nonetheless sometimes elects Republican senators. The incumbent, Pat Toomey, is no eastern moderate, but a former president of the big business lobby Club for Growth. The Democratic candidate will be decided in an April 26 primary between Joe Sestak who lost to Toomey in 2010 and a candidate from the state Democratic leadership, Katie McGinty.
Unexpected events could put additional Republican-held senate seats in play in North Carolina, Arizona, Indiana and Missouri, but that would take an exceptionally good showing from Democrats.

Winning a Democratic majority in the Senate looks to be a tough project. Most of us who don't live in these battlegrounds are reduced to serving as, at best, small donors, and mostly just as onlookers. The shape of the next few years depends almost as much on these contests as on the Presidential race.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

White Christians, "nones," and voting

When thinking about religious support for candidates and issues, we tend to think first of denominational (and/or perhaps ideological) subsets: evangelical, Catholic, mainline Protestant, the "nones," other faiths, ad infinituum. Ain't our religious diversity grand?

But Robert P. Jones of the Public Religion Research Institute makes a point that this habitual way of thinking misses. If you focus on all types of white Christians, their predominance in the nation ended during the last decade.

Just as Barack Obama was being elected in 2008, 54 percent of the country was white and Christian, so if you took all Christian groups together that were white, they still made up a majority. By the time Obama’s term is over, our last data is showing that number is now 45 percent of the country.

We know that the country is browning, that demographers say that by 2040 no racial group will make up an absolute majority. When you think about this, it become obvious that, just as in all other ways of looking at the nation, eventually Christians who are white would cease to be an absolute majority. Well this has happened.

Jones thinks this fact provides a useful insight into Donald Trump's support among white Christians who might be expected to be repelled by his boorish behavior and slippery personal morals. He calls Trump's white crowds mostly "nostalgia" voters, make it great "AGAIN" voters -- people who are living amid rapid change that they find inexplicable and who respond with fear and a fervent (even sometimes violent) desire to turn back the clock. This overrides whatever their ostensible religious affiliation might suggest about what they would want in a candidate.

Jones made another observation on religious voting behavior. Though more and more people describe their religious affiliation as "none," the nones have not made their presence felt in elections in proportion to their growing numbers.

... today if we do the typical social science division of religious groups in the country, today the largest religious group in the country is religiously unaffiliated Americans. They make up 23 percent of the country today. ... So they’re larger than evangelicals, they’re larger than Catholics. And they keep growing. It’s largely fueled by younger people among whom more than a third are religiously unaffiliated. The challenge here is even though they keep growing as a proportion of the population, they tend to turn out at much lower levels in both midterm elections and presidential elections. So for the last three — two presidential cycles and a midterm election cycle — even though they’ve been 20 percent or more of the population, they’ve only been 12 percent of voters. And so there’s an untapped potential here of these religiously unaffiliated voters.

Is this relative abstention because "nones" are disproportionately young or does absence of religious affiliation equate with lower civic participation?

I have my suspicions that the latter may play a role. Our electoral campaigns can be tedious, noisy, and only occasionally meaningful; they are too often unedifying and corrupt. Ballots are long and full. In addition to the major offices we hear so much about, we are supposed to vote on hundreds of other positions about which normal citizens know nothing such as tax assessors and county clerks. Responsible citizenship demands hard work, yet the whole thrust of our efforts to increase voting has been to make the process more convenient and individual. Mail-in ballots (and internet voting if we ever get there) replicate the habits of our individualistic consumer society. We're able to vote from home, alone, and never have the sense of doing something important with everyone else.

People who join and work together in churches at least have regular experience of collective activity that claims a purpose. Aside perhaps from amateur sports teams, it is hard to think of other loci of day-to-day experience of groups of people pulling together for a goal. Yet citizenship -- civic participation in the current jargon -- arises from a sense of the individual embedded within the group. Religiously affiliated people may have a leg up on desiring collective action and consequently may vote more. Just a thought.

We certainly don't want to make voting harder, but we probably do want to make it more something that we do alongside others. Anyone up for planing parades to the polling stations?

Thanks to Erudite Partner for the rudimentary chart, using PRRI and Pew data. Robert P. Jones has a book, The End of White Christian America, due out in July.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A slightly longer view on the election circus

When the horrors of this election cycle get me down -- and even if you're delighted to see your friends shut down the Donald, horror is appropriate -- I check in at Sam Wang's Princeton Election Consortium. PEC is the opposite of click bait: serious, modulated and thoughtful. And every day it automatically updates a number that probably gives as good an idea as any indicator whether we'll come out of this with some Democrat (either Democrat) as the next president.

There's considerable data to suggest that presidential elections can be predicted on the basis of what people think of the previous incumbent in the year leading up to the vote. Here's a slightly dated Nate Cohn discussion of this from last year.

The balance of evidence suggests that the break-even point for the presidential party’s odds of victory is at or nearly 50 percent approval.

And here's the PEC's current chart of the history of the ratio between President Obama's approval and disapproval:
Something's happening here. Obama is clearly on the rise, entering heights of approval he hasn't seen in a year.

Gallup's daily job approval numbers show a similar trend. The Prez is climbing.

Why is hard to know. The economy isn't making most of us feel safe and prosperous, but objectively it is as good as at any time in this presidency.

And the guy is stepping out on a lot of fronts in his last year, from trying to curb greenhouse gases by executive action, to protecting natural areas by declaring National Monuments, to trolling Donald Trump while having a drink with the Canadian Prime Minister.

This may seem a low bar to jump, but we don't have to be ashamed of how Obama represents the country to the rest of the world. Even those of us who think he's been complicit in the war crimes initiated by his predecessors can't deny that he's been a relatively restrained captain of the imperial colossus. (Do take the time to read The Obama Doctrine at the Atlantic.) We're not going to see his like again.

And our relative satisfaction suggests we'll elect a Democrat in November. We can't be complacent; state by state, there will be much work to do. But we can live in rational hope through the next nine moments of noise, anxiety, and general bullshit.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Where did white Americans come from?

The only book I can think of that so thoroughly and elegantly deconstructed what I thought I knew as Nell Irwin Painter's The History of White People is Edward Said's Orientalism. Just as I would feel completely inadequate to describe how Said's textured and wise work of literary criticism made its argument, so I feel utterly unable to summarize what Painter has done in her 2010 cultural history.

Fortunately I don't feel I have to, as she summarized her themes in a New York Times oped written in response to the Charleston massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

We don’t know the history of whiteness, and therefore are ignorant of the many ways it has changed over the years. If you investigate that history, you’ll see that white identity has been no more stable than black identity. While we recognize the evolution of “negro” to “colored” to “Negro” to “Afro-American” to “African-American,” we draw a blank when it comes to whiteness. To the contrary, whiteness has a history of multiplicity.

... In the mid- to late-19th century, the existence of several white races was widely assumed: notably, the superior Saxons and the inferior Celts. Each race — and they were called races — had its characteristic racial temperament. “Temperament” has been and still is a crucial facet of racial classification since its 18th-century Linnaean origins. Color has always been only one part of it ....

In the 19th century, the Saxon race was said to be intelligent, energetic, sober, Protestant and beautiful. Celts, in contrast, were said to be stupid, impulsive, drunken, Catholic and ugly.

... By the 1940s anthropologists announced that they had a new classification: white, Asian and black were the only real races. Each was unitary — no sub-races existed within each group. There was one Negroid race, one Mongoloid race, one Caucasoid race. Everyone considered white was the same as everyone else considered white. No Saxons. No Celts. No Southern Italians. No Eastern European Hebrews. This classification — however tattered — lives on, with mild alterations, even today.

For a glimpse of Ms. Painter's thought, read the oped or, much better, the book.
Of particular interest to me in Painter's History was her short, but acerbic, description of the contributions to racial nativism in the 1920s of the Saturday Evening Post writer and historical novelist Kenneth Roberts. Roberts was some sort of collateral relative of my family; I was raised to applaud his portrayal of American revolutionary war events and people, though I don't think I ever ready any of his novels. Apparently he was one of the leading popular promoters of immigration restrictions (which were passed in 1924) on "hereditarian" grounds. Why, if the pure, "white" United States let those southern Europeans and Catholics and Jews come in to do factory work, they would breed with us! This would become a mongrel society! My older relatives had some of these "hereditarian" prejudices, though they were moderated by having lived through the war against Nazism.
After reading Painter's History I asked around, not very exhaustively, among my academic friends: is this book being taught to college students? Apparently not, or not much. This is unfortunate. The book should be canonical, an element in the knowledge base of educated people. I wonder, is Orientalism canonical?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saturday scene: the city of St. Francis, 2016

The poster shows the face of Mario Woods, a city resident who was killed in December by what amounted to a San Francisco Police Department firing squad. The other person here seemed to be seeking shelter from the rain. Whether that person had a more conventional home to go to, I don't know.

Friday, March 11, 2016

After the Alex Nieto verdict ...

After a federal jury yesterday found it was legal for the San Francisco Police Department to shoot a nonthreatening homey on Bernal Hill, friends, family and supporters gathered at Mission Cultural Center.

That's the hill where Alex Nieto was shot in the background.

As Tim Redmond explained when the trial began, the jury didn't look much like the people of the Mission District.

Since it’s a federal case, the jury pool was chosen from all over the Bay Area, and there were no African Americans among the 30 potential jurors. Only two were Latino, and neither was chosen for the panel.

The final jury has five Caucasian women, all from the suburbs, two men of color, one Asian and one Indian, and one woman of color.

None of them are from San Francisco.

Nieto's parents put on brave faces, as they have for nearly two years.

One more altar was assembled.

On March 21 it will have been two years since Alex Nieto was gunned down. There will certainly be some people with something to say. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Apparently this was not to be ...

Jury decides San Francisco police can shoot brown men eating burritos on Bernal Hill without penalty. For shame!

A campaign against accidental nuclear war
This seems a no-brainer, doesn't it? No sane human wants a nuclear war for any reason. Yet, the US and Russia still keep about 1800 targeted nuclear missiles on standby, 900 of them ready to launch in a matter of minutes.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is campaigning to encourage President Obama to take these missiles off "hair trigger alert" status. He wouldn't need Congressional approval or to do anything expensive or difficult: he could just order the "safety switches" in all the missile silos turned to "off", an intervention that would take only a couple of days according to generals who have commanded the system.

Who knew, David Wright of UCS asks?
... today, around the clock, 90 U.S. launch control officers sit in pairs at 45 hardened, underground missile launch centers, ready to launch 450 land-based nuclear missiles at a moment’s notice. At the same time, launch crews are on duty—also 24/7—on strategic submarines roaming the oceans, ready to launch missiles with hundreds of nuclear weapons if called to.

Russia does something similar.

I can see why people are surprised to learn this. It’s been nearly a quarter century since the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union ended in late 1991. Most people don’t think or hear much about nuclear weapons. But unfortunately, they remain a real and present danger.
So okay -- this is a completely necessary, probably winnable campaign. I mean hey, do you really think this President won't act to reduce the chance of nuclear war if he had citizen back up? Actually, he promised to do just this in 2008.

So what does UCS ask us to do to advance this campaign? Why spread a video about the subject on social media, of course. It's a pretty good video. But communicating with our political leaders solely by raising the profile of an issue through whatever metrics they record about social media seems a little indirect. Deep in the USC site, I did find a page facilitating letter writing. That's good.

But I worry when I see "campaigns" from non-profit advocacy outfits that don't provide any easy ways for people who care to make their opinions effective. It feels like going through the motions which isn't enough when it comes to nukes! (Or many other things, not to pick solely on UCS!)

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Message for 2016: "your vote does make a difference ..."

Congratulations to Bernie Sanders (and his hard working campaigners) on his unexpected win in the Michigan Democratic primary yesterday! In a two candidate race, polls are usually pretty accurate; Sanders beat the polls by 20 points. Something happening here ...

Browsing through returns, I remembered that Dearborn, MI, a city of 90,000 in the Detroit metro area, is home to the most concentrated Arab-American population in the country. Arabic-speaking immigrants first came from Lebanon; these pioneers were largely Christians. More recent arrivals have been Muslims from Yemen, Palestine and Iraq.

In the era of Donald Trump, the Muslims live in fear according to interviews in the Daily Beast.

Among the halal restaurants, the meat markets, and the hookah bars of this working-class Detroit suburb, the topic of Donald Trump is terrorizing the local population.

The businessman and Republican presidential frontrunner is the foremost topic of conversation in Dearborn, a town with one of the highest concentration of Muslims in America and that boasts the country’s largest mosque. Its inhabitants can’t stop talking about the real-estate mogul, who has proposed a ban on Muslims entering the country and normalized extreme rhetoric against the religious group.

... “A lot of people are terrified, if you want the truth. One of his main campaign points is targeting Muslims. And already we feel like we’re targeted, even with a Democratic president for eight years,” said Muna Jondy, an immigration lawyer in Michigan. “American Muslims think there is a possibility of Trump starting internment camps. I am personally not afraid, but I know there is that sentiment in our community. It is a reflection and indictment of our nation.”

Whether justified or not, the fact that American Muslims take seriously the concept of internment camps is a signal that reflects their real concern about their place. ...

And so, the Arab and Muslim population of the area are doing what newcomer communities have always tried to do: getting involved in the political process for self-defense. I wrote yesterday about Roman Catholic efforts to spur naturalization and registration among Latino immigrants. In the Detroit area, sermons in Islamic institutions are pushing the same imperative. This was preached at the Az-Zahraa Islamic Center in Detroit last Friday.

Muslims need to participate heavily in the election. For those citizens who have not registered so far, they need to register so they can be eligible for voting. ... we also have to participate in the primaries. ... and I say, we should not underestimate our vote... your vote does make a difference; always it does make a difference. ... who to vote for? I don't need to tell you ... you are smart, you are intelligent, you know who to vote for ...

Video of this English language appeal is here.

Bernie Sanders campaigned in Dearborn on Monday alongside Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, himself a Muslim. Enthusiastic Bernie supporters appealed to voters outside polling places according to a Detroit Free Press account. They stressed Bernie's call for free college tuition as well as his repudiation of bigotry. Though Clinton has spoken out against Islamophobia, some Arab-Americans are not ready to forget that she voted to invade Iraq in 2002.

So how did Dearborn vote? The Arab capital of the United States opted for the elderly Jew! Turnout was nearly 35 percent (not bad for a primary). Among Democrats, Bernie won nearly 60 percent, 20 points ahead of Clinton. Something happening here ...

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Some people are ready to step up and be counted against hate

This weekend at a social gathering, a young woman of South Asian origin who has been in this country for most of her adult life and is married to a U.S. citizen told us she was finally taking the plunge. She's begun the process to become a U.S. citizen. Why? So she can vote against Donald Trump.

She's not the only one. Four years ago when I was working for a ballot measure to end the death penalty, I had the opportunity to see how effectively Catholic organizations were bringing eligible voters into the political system. We received page after page of signed initiative petitions filled with Spanish surnames from churches in California's Central Valley. Obviously these parishes had helped these people get through the paper work.

Catholic organizations are working doubly hard this year, according to the National Catholic Reporter.

Against a backdrop of polarizing political rhetoric and stalled federal immigration legislation, Catholic parishes from Los Angeles to San Diego -- the most immigrant-rich part of the most immigrant-populated American state -- are heeding Pope Francis' call to treat migrants with "charity and cooperation" and make their lives "more humane."

"People are likely to trust their local church, so we want to capitalize on that trust to do something to everyone's benefit," said Msgr. Richard Martini, pastor at St. Joseph Church in Carpinteria. The 2,000-family parish, like many in Southern California, will host a training in March to recruit churchgoers to reach out via friends and family to immigrants who hold green cards.

"We're trying to put people in a position where they can have a voice and count. One of the advantages of gaining citizenship is that you are able to vote," said Martini, who added that the effort includes voter registration. ...

... California isn't the only place where the church's role in promoting naturalization is ramping up. Dioceses from Galveston-Houston to Miami have teamed with legal groups in recent years for citizenship drives. In Texas, Houston-area Catholics regularly host citizenship workshops through Catholic Charities, similar to courses Catholic Charities offers in dioceses across the country.

In the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area -- home to 240,000 permanent residents who are eligible for citizenship -- the archdiocese teamed with local nonprofits in February to launch Citizen 1-2-3, an outreach program that includes online and text-message guides, a phone hotline, and lawyers who are available to talk applicants through the naturalization process. ...

It is easy to imagine the demagogic Trump asking (as Stalin was said to), "how many divisions does the pope have?" Pope Francis might turn out to mobilize more voices than he expected.

Yesterday the New York Times described a Colorado citizenship drive where people knew exactly why they wanted to vote.

At the Denver workshop, many aspiring voters agreed on why they are naturalizing this year.

“Donald Trump never! Never!” said Minerva Guerrero Salazar, 40, who has been working for a uniform rental company since moving here from Mexico in 2002. “He has no conscience when he speaks of Latinos. And he is so rude. I don’t know what kind of education his mother gave him.”

For practical purposes, new citizens need to get their papers in by May 1 to be assured they make it through processing in time for the November election. A piece of good news is that the government now takes credit card payments for the $680 fee.