Sunday, July 31, 2016

An old scold looks at two pundits

It all depends on where you are when you look around yourself, and when. After musing on generational vantage points last week, I was fascinated by this from Mathew Yglesias at Vox. This 35 year old finds hope in a return to the politics he grew up with, a "boring" politics.

I’ve always loved politics. I used a dial-up internet connection to debate issues on Prodigy. I spent two weeks of the summer of 1998 in the dorms at American University at a weird camp for teenage politics dorks. In 1999, I got to college and the watchword of the day among people interested in politics was apathy. Why were kids so apathetic these days? Why didn’t they care?

The answer, in retrospect, is that the politics of the late 1990s were really boring and only a ridiculous politics dork would be interested in them. Yes, there was a shocking sex scandal. But mostly you had aides from opposing parties huddled in room talking about pay-fors and offsets and S-CHIP expansion. A normal, sensible person could take for granted that the country was going to basically function from one day to the next in a non-catastrophic manner and move on with the problems in their lives.

That all changed on 9/11. ... [But now] what America needs is someone to keep it on track. ... To try to make sure nothing too interesting happens, and that men and women across this great land of ours can afford to go back to not really caring about what happens in Washington. ... it sounds like a job for Hillary Clinton.

For this descendant of Cuban-Americans and product of Harvard, the United States of 1999 is his reference year. He strives, thoughtfully, to interpret current realities through that lens. For someone like me who believes that engaged political struggle -- inside and/or outside the existing frame -- is how a human society fulfills itself, Yglesias' picture seems all too bland ... and yet, we, the political obsessives, need to honor that other human impulse simply to be allowed to live.

My political baseline year remains 1968. Although we've seen horrors in plenty, nothing since has quite compared for apocalyptic, painful, and hopeful potential. Having been there, immersed in politics of several sorts, I've put in a lifetime of looking for the sort of radical break in conventional constraints on freedom and justice that I once took to be a norm. I sure was disappointed, for a long time.

Oddly, or perhaps tellingly, a cursory internet search doesn't tell how old Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent for Slate Magazine and a political analyst for CBS News, might be. But he's not an oldster or a youngster, I don't think. Somewhere in the middle generation, I think. But he's certainly well placed to see something that to me looks new, something we old ones have trouble imagining. And this something, with luck and struggle, the truly young will take for granted. Writing from the Democratic National Convention:

Look at Thursday’s events again and you’ll see the qualities that made the convention a distinctly Democratic [Party] affair. In this celebration of American strength and greatness, the faces were overwhelmingly black and brown. ... From Monday to Thursday, each night of the Democratic National Convention was marked by incredible diversity, represented by a wide array of colors and creeds. They weren’t just voices of normalcy—people who represent the extent to which Democrats have claimed the mantle of “normal” America, where normal includes nonwhites, unauthorized immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. They were also voices for optimism.

... Despite deep problems of discrimination and racial inequality, it’s nonwhites—blacks, Hispanics, and other groups—who have the most optimistic view of the United States and its future. For them, the country is closer than not to its self-conception as a city on the hill, and for good reason. If you’re black, if you’re Latino, if you’re gay—life is unquestionably better now than it was in the past.

... pay attention to the tenor of this optimism, to the rhythms of its expression. It isn’t the self-satisfaction of Reagan, champion of the status quo. It is hard-won hope, an optimism born of struggle. It’s the “Mothers of the Movement,” whose grief fuels hopeful activism. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and urging you to say their names,” said Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, who was slain in 2012. “We’re going to keep building a future where police officers and communities of color work together in mutual respect to keep children, like Jordan, safe.” It’s the difference between Reagan’s eternal lights “in this springtime of hope” and Maya Angelou’s “still I rise,” one of the refrains of this week.

... Grounding themselves in an optimism born of struggle, Democrats are asking those people to continue the struggle for equality, the fight to make a “more perfect union.” To turn back Trump and assert the dignity of all Americans, hopeful that with hard work, the problems of today will give way to better prospects and a better future.

Now that's new -- and old -- because it locates leadership where it belongs, among people whose history has painfully molded them to carry us all forward. Yes indeed, I still think 1968 was a very good year.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Another San Francisco memorial

While Walking San Francisco, I spotted this under a tree in Pacific Heights.

On the other side of the tree, there were many more tributes.

Robin Williams died three years ago, but many of the rocks are fresh.

Some are from quite far away.

The memorial is a tourist attraction. As I walked on, a bus disgorged what looked to be about 15 visitors with cameras. I'm sure someone (new owners of Williams' former home?) cleans it up occasionally.

Williams was loved.

St. Francis cries crimson tears

Dawn Oberg -- San Francisco singer, songwriter and sensitive human -- keeps on keepin' on, stands vigil for the men and women killed by the SFPD, and does what she does: belt out poetry. It's 12:01 in the city of St. Francis.

Resistance inspires art; art inspires resistance.

Friday, July 29, 2016

And now for the campaign's grind phase: Why Kaine?

When Hillary Clinton named Tim Kaine to be her Veep, my friends mostly wondered "why"? Sure, he looks to us like a pretty garden variety centrist Democratic white guy. And he is. Perhaps he is a little unusual in having experience with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Honduras, speaking Spanish, and attending a majority African-American Catholic parish. Some worry that he might be squishy on reproductive freedom, but I'm willing to trust Clinton on this one. Women's autonomy is baseline stuff for her.

But a moment's reflection shows what he is good for, beyond not pissing off anyone not already pissed off. His inclusion is a plausible outreach strategy to the only sector of the white electorate in which Clinton might be able to make gains: white Catholics.

NCR graphic
Polls usually describe Clinton as having a lead among Catholics. But that's what the numbers look like when you lump Latino Catholics with white Catholics. It is not hard to understand why Latinos intend to vote against Trump. But disaggregate the vote by race and you can see Clinton lags among white Catholics -- except those white Catholics who are most engaged with their faith. John Gehring at Religious News Service took a shot at explaining the discrepancies:
Catholic voters, who have been key to picking the winning ticket in almost every modern election, reject Trump decisively. In 2012, President Obama won the overall Catholic vote 50 percent to 48 percent. Hillary Clinton now leads 56 percent to 39 percent, a sizable gap unlikely to close much by November.

... Consistently reliable Republicans who attend Mass weekly supported Mitt Romney four years ago by 15 percentage points. Clinton is winning this critical slice of the Catholic electorate by a whopping 19 points. The Republican ticket also usually performs well with white Catholic voters, who supported Romney by 9 points, 53 percent to 44 percent. Clinton has halved that gap, trailing Trump by only a few percentage points, 50 percent to 46 percent.

... When Trump calls for a religious test for Muslims entering the country; questions the faith of Hillary Clinton, President Obama and Mitt Romney; and demonizes undocumented immigrants as “rapists,” it’s a reminder of the ugly nativism that Catholics once faced.

... Most politicians are smart enough not to tussle with a pope. Trump is the exception to that rule. He clashed with Pope Francis during the pope’s visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in February, blasting the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world as “disgraceful” and a “political pawn” of Mexico.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Pope Francis said in response to a reporter’s questions about Trump’s plan for a massive border wall.
Clinton has room to grow her support among the white Catholic population. Few of them really vote the culture war issues -- abortion, gay marriage, gay parent adoptions -- however much conservative bishops might wish they would. Human decency counts with this group and if Kaine can reach some of these people, she'll reap another small segment of the white vote.

She needs that, as much be able to govern, as to outpoll the Donald in November.
Kaine's connection to Honduras does highlight one of Clinton's worst actions as Secretary of State: putting the United States behind a coup in 2009 in that country which has, predictably, left workers and peasants at the mercy of oligarchic and corporate exploiters. Honduran indigenous activists hold their coup government responsible for 100s of killings, including the assassination of environmentalist Berta Cáceres last winter. Her daughter, Laura Zuñiga Cáceres, joined protesters outside both conventions.

Will Tim Kaine use whatever influence a Vice President has for justice in Honduras?

Friday cat blogging

Tokyo enjoyed (endured?) a visit from her people last week. She still has several more weeks to tolerate looming gray disapproval from Morty.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Musing on generations ...

Watching the Democratic Party convention this week, a friend wrote: "Clearly there's room for everyone in the Big Blue Tent but yowza, this grey haired white lady is glad for the youth and for change."

Me too!

A discussion ensued, and I felt as if I might have some thoughts, but found they contained enough disparate strands that I wanted to let them percolate. Those thoughts still go off in several directions, but they seem good fodder for a blog post.

It's going to take more than the right mattress ...
For nearly a decade and a half, I've been interested in and advocated for generational leadership transitions in progressive political organizations and activities. This usually took the form of whining: "we Boomers need to get out of the way." I believe that very strongly. I'm not down on my generation, but we are such a large cohort and participated in such good, wrenching social changes, that we can be awful know-it-alls. I am lucky enough to be able (mostly) to trust myself to mean it when I say to myself, "Back off!" If folks come along who think they are finding a better way, my instinct is to respond "please, take it and run." My (relative) ease with this is not universal.

On the other hand, there are very particular situations in which I've badly mishandled generational transition work. A consequence of putting in the time in struggle, especially for women, especially for queers, and (I think, but can't say) for people of color, is that if you've exercised leadership, you've learned to some extent to be more dominant in many interactions than the entitled white males who default to assuming that leadership is theirs. Our prospective president is from this mold. In an interview with Ezra Klein, Hillary Clinton asserted:
... governing is the slow, hard boring of hard boards ...
I'd paraphrase that to mean something like "I'll study harder, work harder, be less romantic, and become even more hard-headedly 'realistic' than any of you. She may be speaking truth about herself, but the result is not too likable.

Clinton walked into a shitstorm in her August 2015 encounter with Black Lives Matter activists. She tried to explain:
“I don’t believe you change hearts,” Clinton told Julius Jones in an candid moment backstage after a campaign event. “I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate. You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not. But at the end of the day, we can do a whole lot to change some hearts, and change some systems, and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them.”
That's using a hyper-"realistic" dominance approach to people who are building a beyond-the-possible movement based in their love for one another and a moral vision of justice. It's not going to be taken well. And this is very often what happens when experience collides with righteous zeal.

I know. When working in good and valuable electoral campaigns, I've sometimes tamped down the idealism of people (many younger and/or less experienced) around me because I've learned the day-to-day technical work of an election is a long, often boring grind but I believe you just have to slog through. This grind can yield certain kinds of power, certain wins, for the 99 percent who need those wins. But being a wet blanket who smothers some of the joy of struggle does not contribute to building the world we all want. I have sometimes lost my balance. The job of experience is, usually, to find balance.

When I first encountered pop sociological divisions into generational cohorts -- Silent, Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, etc. -- I was profoundly skeptical. And I still am. But referencing these granfalloons can sometimes provide a useful shorthand in conversation.

The other day I found myself talking with a neighbor, a Millennial or maybe Gen Xer, about whom I know little except that he posted a bevy of multilingual Bernie signs on his windows during the primary. He asked, "what do we do now?" This was an honest question, not some kind of gambit for some ideological lecture. (Nice, huh?) I shared that I believe my Boomer generation had flunked "inside/outside strategy" -- that coming out of the 1960s, we, including me, didn't try to contest for institutional bases within the electoral world. (No, I didn't go into any of what were often rational reasons for this failure.) We left the conventional members of our generation -- the people who had been the high school student council presidents, etc. -- take the reins in the Democratic Party, while most artists and most radicals wandered off to form communes and/or later populate college faculties. Would the world have been different if more of us had worked inside as well as outside? (And no, I made choices that led me outside as well.) We don't know. But I hope the Bernie folks don't replicate this. My neighbor wants his tribe to leave their mark and more power to 'em.

What's glaring this year is that the significant figures in the electoral arena -- Bernie, the Donald, Hillary -- are all really old, just as the Millennials become the numerically largest segment of the electorate. Why was no one younger able to break into the top tier? That's an important question. Something is wrong.

Oh -- and, have to say, sometimes I'm in awe of the young people I see coming up -- so much more sophisticated in multiple ways than we were, back in the day ...

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Seen in the 'hood

While doing errands yesterday, I spotted this on a bus shelter. The election is coming home.

Election seasons inspire maps

Love this Courtney Menard effort by way of the essential Grist.

This map should help climate hawks prepare before they head to the voting booth: It shows how people in U.S. states (plus Puerto Rico) are beginning to feel the impacts of global warming — and what voters might want to ask candidates about this fall in town halls or public forums.

While parched California burns, I'm enroute today to the land of Cape Cod flooding.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Political convention watching

A bit of public art from Bernie's home town of Burlington, VT.
It is all up to democracy. If most of the people want to be lied to so that they can be angry, then goodbye the good old U.S.A.
I don't know about the "good old USA," but I've long believed that democracy was better than any yet imagined alternative. Looks like we're running a serious test of that premise.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Futile war without end

The subtitle is the true theme of Andrew J. Bacevich's America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History. A retired colonel, a professional Army officer before becoming a scholar, Bacevich brings a military professional's eye to decades of U.S. imperial folly, beginning with Jimmy Carter's commitment to keep oil flowing to an insatiable country, through Afghan wars I and II, through Iraq I and II, through Bosnia, Lebanon, the "Arab Spring," Libya, the Syria civil war and beyond. He judges all this violent misery harshly:

I should state plainly my own assessment of this ongoing war, now well into its fourth decade. We have not won it. We are not winning it. Simply trying harder is unlikely to produce a different outcome. ...

This is not a book that judges the morals and motives of U.S. leaders who stumbled from crisis to catastrophe leaving carnage (mostly for other people) behind. He's asking whatever were they thinking? What they thought they might accomplish? Why the military means employed seemed so utterly incapable of accomplishing much anything except destruction (mostly of other people)? And, so now what?

He's a scathing critic, for example of President Jimmy Carter who he describes as allowing domestic politics to lead him into blundering quagmires in Iran and Afghanistan:

... when it came to the exercise of power, Carter was insufficiently devious. He suffered from a want of that instinctive cunning that every successful statesman possesses in great abundance. ...he lacked guile ..."

But his real bile is directed toward his own profession, the U.S. military and permanent "national security" establishment. Victory in the Cold War

brought the armed services and their various clients face to face with a crisis of the first order. With the likelihood of World War III subsiding to somewhere between remote and infinitesimal -- with the overarching purpose for which the postwar U.S. military establishment had been created thereby fulfilled -- what exactly did that establishment and all of its ancillary agencies, institutes, collaborators, and profit-making auxiliaries exist to do?

The Pentagon wasted no time in providing an answer to that question. ... The Greater Middle East was to serve -- indeed, was even then already serving -- as the chosen arena for honing military power into a utensil that would maintain America's privileged position and, not so incidentally, provide a continuing rationale for the entire apparatus of national security. That region's predominantly Muslim population thereby became the subjects of experiments ranging from the nominally benign -- peacekeeping, peacemaking, and humanitarian intervention -- to the nakedly coercive.

Beginning in 1980, U.S. forces ventured into the Greater Middle East to reassure, warn, intimidate, suppress, pacify, rescue, liberate, eliminate, transform and overawe. They bombed, raided, invaded, occupied, and worked through proxies of various kinds. ... The results actually produced over the course of several decades of trying have never come even remotely close to satisfying ... expectations.

I appreciated this book. I learned from this book. But throughout I felt (as well as understood even if only incompletely) that far too much was missing. In particular, Bacevich never really integrates the impact of the festering moral wound that was and is Israeli theft of their homeland from Palestinians. That lurks there in the background; this history cannot be written without bringing it to the foreground, despite its adding new layers of complexity.

Bacevich's lumped together region -- his Greater Middle East -- has little texture, few sub-genres, not nearly enough local quirks, and hardly any diverse people in his telling. U.S. readers have access to far more granular and human accounts of what we have wrought. I recommend especially Anthony Shadid's Night Draws Near on Iraq before we facilitated that country's dismemberment and Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan.

But I would recommend this book as well. There are so many vantages from which to condemn the ongoing national war folly ... we need them all.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

A San Francisco terror bombing

One hundred years ago, on July 22, 1916, the San Francisco plutocrats of the day sought to convince a skeptical working class in our city that ramping up armament production in preparation to join the raging European war would be a glorious enterprise. They staged a great civic parade down Market Street.

Someone disagreed, setting off a pipe bomb in the crowd, killing 10 people, injuring 40. Naturally the city fathers blamed anarchists and union leaders. Thomas Mooney and Warren K Billings were labor agitators with a history of knowing how to use dynamite. They were convicted of the crime despite no evidence of guilt. Radical campaigners struggled for decades to save them; they were not released and pardoned until 1939.

Walter Thompson has assembled the story at Hoodline.

In the summer of 1916, European powers were waging war in trenches and on the seas of the North Atlantic, but America remained neutral. Focused on pushing his New Freedom platform of progressive reforms, President Woodrow Wilson recognized that a war would hijack his ambitious social agenda.

Wilson ran for re-election on the slogan "He Kept Us Out of War," and Americans whistled along with a pop song called "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier." But there was a rising call for the U.S. to begin marshaling wartime resources. ...

By May 1916, New York and Chicago had rallied their citizenry to support a wartime build-up via preparedness parades. San Francisco's procession was organized by the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, but there was still a strong isolationist streak. On the eve of the parade, mainstream and radical union leaders met at Dreamland Rink, a roller-skating palace at Post and Steiner, to denounce the celebration.

"The viewpoint of all those who spoke was that the preparedness propaganda is being carried out for ulterior purposes, and that it makes for a serious menace to the ideals of world peace," reported the San Francisco Chronicle. "Those present were advised to stand silent as the paraders passed." ...

After the bombing, Hearst-Pathé newsreel producers made a propaganda film about the events, pitting "anarchism" -- the era's label for terrorism -- against "liberty."

The film remains fascinating. I particularly enjoy the upper class marching ladies in their "liberty" finery. I would recommend running the video at full screen at double-time for the best effect. This having been the silent film era, there is no sound; the movie theater pianist would have provided accompaniment.

A 50K self-indulgence for a good cause

And so, on Friday, the big day for which I had prepared for nearly six months finally arrived. Erudite Partner drove me the 36 miles to the trailhead near Point Reyes, arriving right on schedule at 7:00am. Good Friend Karen vastly exceeded any conception of comradely duty by showing up at this hour with a bag of donuts -- which I was too keyed up to eat. The fog was dense; the temperature in the low 50s. After a hug from EP, I started my watch and lumbered off into the gray.

Though excited, I wasn't worried. I knew I had done the work to make this course not only possible, but even enjoyable. Back in the day, in my early fifties, I completed 4 road marathons, all of which were uncomfortable and felt unsatisfactory. Eleven years ago, I completed a trail marathon and, for the first time, walked away from the finish both pleased with my effort and feeling good physically.

And then life intervened and I got busy (among other endeavors with this blog). I still "ran" close to 1000 miles a year, but without much focus. I used all this terribly slow and awkward locomotion for training for several hiking and trekking trips and it served me well. I learned that I could, mostly, control my chronic plantar fasciitis (foot pain) by sticking to trails and going slow. Sometimes it would flare up -- this feels as if someone is driving a nail into your heel -- but it always eventually calmed down.

This past winter, despite a nasty bout of PF, I decided that the time had come if I was ever going to venture farther than the marathon distance (26.2 miles) and I knew I wanted to do this on a trail.
The Bay Area Ridge Trail runs a convenient and gorgeous 31 mile distance, from Sir Francis Drake Blvd. to the Golden Gate Bridge. So I had a ready made path to follow.

What starts in a cow pasture becomes a wooded hill in sunshine after 11 miles.

Eleven miles after that, coming off Dias Ridge, the temperature was in the high 70s and I was feeling good. My faithful crew -- the EP and the FoN -- kept me fed and watered.

Nearly three hours later I pulled into the west Bridge parking lot, happy and relaxed. Not bad for an old lady. FoN (Force of Nature) hung a medal on a blue ribbon around my neck.

Anyone who is a "real" runner, whatever that means, might scoff at this effort. Here's the awful truth, the pure statistics.
But damn it, I trained for it, I did it, and I'm feeling great afterward. That's good enough for me.
And, together with Erudite Partner, we made this indulgence into a successful fundraiser for Californians for Justice on the 20th anniversary of that valuable organization. The Long Run for the Long Haul has raised over $5500 from over 60 donors. Enormous thanks to all of you!

Not bad for what FoN calls my "mad run." The donation site will stay up til the end of July, just in case someone is feeling motivated to chip in to help the next generation of agitators and organizers.

Friday, July 22, 2016

On the run

When this post appears, I'll be cleansing the foul stench of the Cleveland GOP hate-fest from my soul, running 31 miles over these Marin Country hills. I'm running this long, beautiful, hilly course because I want to -- and to benefit the work of Californians for Justice, developing leaders of future struggles.

The EP and the FoN (Force of Nature: that's our long-time comrade and house partner) are serving as support crew, meeting me at the infrequent road crossings with liquids and snacks.

The fundraising has gone very well, drawing in 55 donors and well over $4000 so far. I'll leave the donation page up til the end of the month if anyone realizes they meant to give a bit and forgot ...

This blog will be offline on Saturday, but I promise a full report from the run as soon as I'm feeling able. And then back to the usual horrific moments and the occasional delightful surprise.

Friday cat blogging

Tokyo and Morty practicing proximity without violence, if not exactly amity.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

But why do they plagiarize?

My Erudite Partner teaches undergraduates at a liberal arts college. Every semester while grading papers, she fumes: "how can they plagiarize in an ethics class?'

But they do. As a consequence, the college makes them submit their papers by way of an internet portal called It's not as if they can't see what their instructors will see; if Turnitin finds sections that replicate something else somewhere on the internet, including in a huge database of student papers, it flags it for the student who can clean up their paper before passing it on to the professor.
Melania Trump neglected to use Turnitin. And we now know she copied from Michelle Obama's 2008 speech introducing herself as the candidate's wife.

Turnitin diagnoses three types of plagiarism in the Trump speech:
  • "The 'Clone' type of plagiarism copies another’s work verbatim, word-for-word. ...[in one section Trump included a] Word-for-word Match Count [of] 23 Words. Just to provide some context, ... there is a one in one trillion chance that a sixteen-word phrase matches another phrase of the same length just by coincidence. As the number of words matching increase, the probability of a purely coincidental match goes down by orders of magnitude. "
  • "'find and replace' plagiarism,... where a few key words or phrases are changed, but the text retains the content or meaning of the copied work.' [Pictured above.]
  • "The Question of Intent ... More than just the copying of words, a comparison of Melania’s and Michelle’s speeches follows the same sequence of thoughts and ideas. To an educator, this [suggests] intent. "
Trump is not alone in thinking no one would notice. Even though students can see for themselves whether EP is going to find they have plagiarized, they nonetheless submit work that reveals copying. She has never figured out what they were thinking. In fact, it seems they weren't thinking, they were just going through the motions of scholarship in a state of incoherent panic.

Does a current political campaign spectacle being foisted on the country also arise from incoherent panic? So it seems. Can we all keep from being drawn into this vortex of fear, hatred, and confusion? Let's try our hardest.
EP intends to teach the Melania Trump prat fall in the autumn semester. It seems likely she'll serve as an example to thousands of students nationwide.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Why tacky matters

Gay bashing seems to have taken second place to race bashing and all-purpose woman hatred among the Republicans this year, but I found this gay male slant on meaning of the Republican nominee's interior decorating right on point.

Josh Baro had a job with the New York Times' Upshot, but left to to be able to speak his mind during this campaign writing editorial commentary for the Business Insider.

I have sometimes gotten pushback when I have, on Twitter, described Trump's racist and sexist comments as "tacky." This word may sound like it minimizes how bad Trump is, since it's a word we also use to describe tasteless clothes and ugly chairs. Shouldn't we call Trump offensive, scary, divisive, dangerous?

Of course Trump is all of those things, but it is important to also say that he is tacky, and that his bigotry is tacky, because often the only thing that stops people from behaving like Trump is their sense that doing so would be tacky, and that tackiness is to be avoided.

That is, people often stop themselves from saying bigoted things not because they have goodness in their hearts, but because they don't want to be looked at askance.

I worry about this especially as a gay man. Let's be real: A lot of people have a visceral, gut-level discomfort with homosexuality. Over the last few decades, gays have come to be treated better in part because many people's gut feelings have changed. But partly, they have changed because people have decided, consciously, that their gut feelings about gay people are wrong, and that they should resist the temptation to express those feelings.

And partly, expressed attitudes about gays have changed because people think their anti-gay feelings have become socially unacceptable, and so they should stifle themselves and not express them, even if they still think those feelings are right.

Of course, what I most want is for people to not have a problem with me as a gay man, but I'll count any of the shifts described above as positive. They're especially positive because a generation of parents suppressing their gut-level dislike of gays have managed to raise another generation that, by and large, is getting to adulthood without those negative feelings at all.

On acceptance of gays, lots of Americans have been faking it until they make it — and I suspect the phenomenon is similar for the suppression and reduction of all sorts of prejudices and bigotries.

Donald Trump threatens to interfere with this process by telling Americans we don't have to suppress our basest instincts — that it is OK to let our vulgar flags fly.

Trumpian interior photo stolen from the Daily Mail.

A Clinton ad in response to the Republican primal scream in Cleveland

This is well done. There are places it might play well -- New England maybe and among some mainline white Protestants.
But how many of these thoughtful old guys are there left? That's a real question. I can imagine where to find them, but I haven't been in those places in years. Let's hope enough of them can overcome decades of conditioning to walk away from what has become the party of fear and hate.

Half of white mainline Protestants prefer Trump (50%), while about four-in-ten (39%) favor Clinton.

Pew Research

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

How long must we wait for the District Attorney to do his job?

City residents gathered this morning on the steps of the "Hall of Justice" demanding that officers of the San Francisco Police Department be charged with murder for shooting Amilcar Perez Lopez in the back. According to witnesses, the young Guatemalan ran away from strange men who tackled him in the street -- those men turned out to be plainclothes cops. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon has been sitting on the case for 18 months.

Recently the D.A. told Fr. Richard Smith, speaking here, that the SFPD failed to notify his office there had been an officer-involved shooting, leaving his people to learn of the event on the evening news. Further, the SFPD directed the Medical Examiner to remove Amilcar's body before the DA's team could investigate the crime scene for possible criminal conduct. Our current interim police chief (the last one quickly retired after another unsupportable police killing in June) denies the D.A. said any such thing, but Smith preserved this message from Gascon:
The coalition seeking Justice4Amilcar was joined by others calling out recent SFPD killings, including the parents of Alex Nieto ...

... a cousin and a brother of Luis Gongoro Pat ...

... religious leaders from Faith in Action and a spokesperson the Mario Woods coalition ...

... and Dr. Margaret Stafford of San Francisco General Hospital speaking for the Do No Harm coalition of public health care professionals.

Still D.A. Gascon has not acted on police shootings ... how long must families wait? How long?

Extrajudicial execution: it's not just something cops do too often

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claims this gentleman, Fethullah Gulen, was responsible for the coup attempt by the military to overthrow him last week. Gulen lives in rural Pennsylvania.

Glenn Greenwald asks:

In light of the presence on U.S. soil of someone the Turkish government regards as a “terrorist” and a direct threat to its national security, would Turkey be justified in dispatching a weaponized drone over Pennsylvania to find and kill Gulen if the U.S. continues to refuse to turn him over ...?

This question makes a good introduction to Erudite Partner's current article on the legal and moral implications of the U.S. policy of remote assassination of perceived enemies in the forever war: The Trojan Drone: An Illegal Military Strategy Disguised as Technological Advance.

Some queers are hungry

We're not all getting married and living happily ever after.

The belief that most L.G.B.T. people are affluent is “one of the most persistent and, frankly, pernicious myths about the L.G.B.T. community,” said Gary J. Gates, who wrote the first report on food insecurity in the L.G.B.T. community and is an author on the new report as well. “It emerged in part from the community itself, as part of a strategy of marketing the population as an attractive consumer market.”

... Ms. Jean, of the Los Angeles L.G.B.T. center, said she planned to use the new report to raise awareness and “raise a ruckus,” and press the local food bank operation to restore the food pantry that used to be at her center.

“I have had government funders over the years say to me things like, ‘Yeah, but you people don’t need it,’” Ms. Jean said. “There’s this myth in our society that gay people are rich, but it’s not the truth. We have this huge swath of people who make less than their straight counterparts, and most people, even in our own community, do not know that.”

New York Times, July 18, 2016

Monday, July 18, 2016

James Lawson describes bringing a nonviolent struggle for justice to scale

We need this after the last two weeks and the probable next two weeks with the GOPers in Cleveland -- and who knows where else? Violence is the air we breathe and is the force that crushes so many in this United States of faltering imperial and capitalist dominance. Yet smart, disciplined, and hope-filled non-violent struggle is also the peoples' antidote to the daily poison.

In 2010, the School of Authentic Journalism brought Reverend Lawson to the Autonomous University of the Yucatan in southern Mexico to share his experience building the non-violent Nashville civil rights movement with Mexican and other international campaigners. His hearers testify that he both educated and inspired.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Mr. Sourpuss with Mr. Simper as sidekick

No comment.

Heroism and horrors

Adam Hochschild's big new book, Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 is just what the subtitle advertises -- the story of U.S. citizens who participated in that confusing, emotionally charged struggle.

Of necessity, that means Hochschild has to provide a narrative of a conflict that unfolded very differently than anything in the experience of most of us. In this one, it was the democratically elected government, the "Republic," which was fighting against the "Nationalists," rebelling colonial army officers whose assumed that label to proclaim themselves the only authentic Spaniards. But that elected government contained liberals, socialists, Moscow-aligned Communists -- and was functionally dependent during its early resistance to the military coup on anarchists who fought for no government at all. Francisco Franco and the other generals were enthusiastic fascists, dependent on feudal estate holders, the Catholic Church, and Hitler and Mussolini. The government won only suspicion from Europe's democracies, England and France, and isolationism from Franklin Roosevelt's United States, so became quickly dependent on the Soviet Union. There were atrocities in this very intimate war committed by both belligerents, though of far greater scale by the Nationalists. (Historian Paul Preston has presented in English the very thorough archival data about these horrors unearthed by Spanish scholars in The Spanish Holocaust.) Franco and the Nationalists triumphed; the Generalissimo became Spain's vicious dictator until his death in 1974.

The Spanish Civil War was an immensely complicated, dramatic, horrible, apparently morally simple but actually multi-layered, mess. Hochschild does a graceful job of presenting enough of this backstory to make some sense of the experiences of U.S. participants. (For a more general history in which U.S. citizens are the bit players they were, I'd suggest Antony Beevor's The Battle for Spain.) He naturally depends on the available written materials from a few of the approximately 3000 U.S. volunteer combatants, the writings of U.S. journalists who covered the war (often on the front pages) for U.S. newspapers, and the records of the Texaco oil magnate who made sure Franco and later Hitler had all the oil they needed. The whole makes a good story.

Unlike U.S. contemporaries, Hochschild makes his readers vitally aware of the social revolution -- the rising of workers and peasants against their class oppressors -- that the Republican government wished it could keep under wraps. Anarchism was a developed ideological current in early 20th century Spain whose adherents were quite capable of holding and experimenting with running the highly developed province of Catalonia. Their trams ran on time and the mail was delivered -- unless there was a political rally or an "essential" point of principle to be argued out.

... idealists had dreamed of a world where wealth would be shared, where workers would own factories and peasants land, and where democracy, in yet-to-be-defined ways, would be far more direct. For some months this had actually happened, above all in Barcelona ....

The bourgeois Republican government and its Communist supporters wanted these bumptious anarchists out of sight, at best. These leaders had a mechanized, industrial war to fight which required foreign equipment and and tight order. Enthusiasm and elected officers were no match for heavy artillery, tanks, and Moorish economic conscripts under Franco. The democracies would never supply an anarchist army and neither would the Communist Soviet Union, the only practical source of weaponry. The anarchists were duly crushed by the Republic.

Hochschild's most acerbic criticism, in a what is a gentle book about horrors, is directed at the war correspondents who sought to make names for themselves in Spain, but missed the anarchists' social experiments. Whether celebrities or sloggers, their reporting stayed within the "Authorized Version of the Spanish Civil War ... [an] easy to understand heroes v. villains narrative ..." which usually contained a heavy dose of romanticized machismo.

The fact that a utopian social revolution might have been an impractical and romantic dream even in peacetime and was surely an impossible one when fighting a terrible war, made it no less worth reporting. Of the many hundreds of correspondents from abroad who passed through Spain during the war, not one showed much interest in the revolution that for months surrounded them ... [even] those like Virginia Cowles. She noted, at least, that the Hotel Florida itself "was in the hands of elevator boys, doormen and clerks, with the restaurant where I ate managed jointly by a group of waiters." ... Not a single one bothered to spend a few days in a Spanish factory or business or estate taken over by its workers, to examine just how the utopian dream was faring in practice. ... Has history ever seen a case where such a huge array of talented reporters ignored such a big story right in front of them?

I'm not sure they (we) do any better today. After all, who ever cares about the workers upon whose labor writers and scholars depend?

The bulk of the book is about the men and the few women who comprised the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Fully twenty percent of these volunteer soldiers never returned from Spain. Most were Communists, many urban workers. The Republic could seldom keep them supplied with arms, not to mention clothed and fed. In general, they had hardly any military training; they learned as they fought. They were often used as shock troops. As the war progressed, they were exposed to near constant artillery and air bombardment for which they had no answer. They were sometimes poorly led; some officers were doctrinaire Communist martinets. If captured, they could expect to be summarily executed as "Reds."

Few American volunteers doubted that they were fighting the first battle of a world war to come ...There seemed a moral clarity about the crisis in Spain. Rapidly advancing fascism cried out for defiance; if not here, where?

Surely Spaniards were right to resist a coup backed by Hitler and Mussolini. But did the Republic become doomed by its entanglement with the Soviet Union, whose government was at least as murderous as the Franco regime? Defenders of the Republic were, in short, fighting for one of the finest of causes beside one of the nastiest of allies .

The "Lincolns" were indeed heroic in a cause they believed in. And if that motivation frayed, they struggled on for their comrades in arms, like all armies. They had little idea what was going on politically behind the lines or internationally, though they knew fascism was an evil to be fought. Their story is still thrilling, even, or perhaps because, we know how it ended.

Hochschild makes clear that he does not share the left orthodoxy of that time -- the idea that, if the democracies had just armed the Republic and Franco been defeated, the catastrophe we call the Second World War could have been averted. Hitler's drive for continental and world domination had to be defeated in its own right, not by proxy.

In the introduction, he does raise a very pertinent question for contemporary U.S. progressives:

For more than half a century now, many members of my own political generation have been strongly opposed to war, and especially to American intervention in the civil wars or internal affairs of other countries, whether in Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iraq, or almost anywhere else. Yet most of us have long thought the world would have been better off if our government had not stood aside from the Spanish Civil War. We've regarded as heroes an earlier generation of Americans who went off to fight in it. This raises the question: are there times when military involvement in a distant conflict is justified?

The book does not return to this question. I belong to the same generation as this author (and have run across him when we were both agitating against the U.S. war on Sandinista Nicaragua). I do have an answer for this: the U.S. since 1945 has been the world's top empire; U.S. interventions have almost exclusively empowered the rich few against the poor majority, and ignorantly and arrogantly trampled upon others' societies and cultures. No, our distant conflicts in my lifetime have done far more harm than good, bringing death and destruction to millions. I find that judgment all too easy. And while our rulers continue to aim for world hegemony, that's not going to change.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday scenes and scenery: San Francisco's Asian-inspired lions

You can see them sprinkled about in most neighborhoods. The purveyors of guardian statuary in this city had multiple regional markets in mind. This grand monster, spotted in Pacific Heights, was in front of some sort of institution; there was no sign. Houses are big up there.

This modest set of household guardians is more common.

I'm not sure what this one was fired in.

The blue jade color is more conventional.

There's no getting by these fellows.

He's pretty ferocious.

This one seems out of some different tradition.

Several of these scrappy fellows guard the entrances to the city's Little Saigon area.

Yes, some of these look to European eyes like dogs, but I don't think I've misidentified them. There is an interesting Chinese Guardian Lions article in Wikipedia that explains that some are even called "Foo Dogs" in English usage.

All photos from my 596 Precincts project.

Friday, July 15, 2016

A surfeit of direct democracy barreling down on Californians

A friend, a relatively recent transplant, commented resignedly to me yesterday: "they don't vote on all this stuff where I come from. It will take a lot of studying up ..." She's right. Californians will face 17(!!) state propositions in November, plus varying numbers of local measures, plus, of course, federal and state candidates for office. Yikes!

We can thank Governor Jerry Brown for the huge number of state props. As I have explained previously, his barely contested re-election in 2014 set the stage for this profusion of ballot measures by effectively lowering the cost of qualifying initiatives.

I'll delve into at least some of these over the next three months, though I imagine I'll never manage to care whether porn actors should be required to wear condoms. No really, that's Prop. 60.

Here's a preliminary look at where the money is playing in this horrendous season of initiatives via Bret Hendry at Fox & Hounds.

It looks as if Big Pharma will dominate the money game in this election, having already spent 38 percent of all that has been spent on all these propositions. They really don't want the state limiting what we'll spend on the drugs the state buys. For further reference, that's Prop. 61 and the sheer willingness of these profiteers to spend to protect their bottom line makes it easy to know which way to vote. No, I'm not scared they'll walk away from California. We're big.

Not only at the federal level, this is going to be a long, nasty election.

Friday cat blogging

This isn't exactly the peaceable kingdom around here. Morty has Tokyo trapped here, but she could just as well be chasing him. There's no visible damage from these encounters, but these are two anxious cats.


Here's what looks like a more equal encounter...

... that ended when the little one jumped at the big guy and drove him off.