Saturday, March 31, 2018
Friday, March 30, 2018
Next Wednesday will be the 50th anniversary of the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.was killed by a racist white sniper in Memphis.
Ten years ago, for the 40th anniversary, Michael Eric Dyson offered a little book: April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Death and How it Changed America. On this Good Friday, when Christians remember innocent death applauded by crowds and inflicted by imperial power, when we live under a regime that incites cruelty and hate all around, much of Dyson's meditation on King's death seems on point.
Dyson's strange and wonderful book is not to be missed, only slightly dated because many the statistics he cites describing the black condition in this country have only grown more unequal over the last ten years. His meandering assessments of black leaders after King remain insightful, especially his thoughts on the merits and demerits of the charismatic style in figures including Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barack Obama. He concludes with an imaginary interview with King on his 80th birthday in which King tries to shatter taboos on (black) leaders seeking professional help with their inevitable personal anxieties and depressions.
Best of all, this book is available as an audiobook, read by the author. Dyson is gifted mimic; his recitation of King's own words come across as the preacher himself. We've heard that tenor and cadence in recordings; listen to it again from Dyson.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
As any properly media-trained speaker might reply, "I'm glad you asked that question." Fortunately, there's Mr. Google.
Maundy comes from an Anglo-French word derived from the Latin “mandatum,” which means “commandment.” It refers to Jesus' injunction at the Last Supper: "love one another as I have loved you ..." Because we need reminding, we take the opportunity to wash each other's feet on Maundy Thursday, as he did for his foot-sore disciples that evening.
If you are the sort of person who worries about this sort of thing, you just hope only a minimum number of pitchers are overturned on the church floor. But even for the persnickety, it can be moving.
Maundy Thursday is the first event of the three-day climax of the Christian Holy Week, the most significant celebrations of the year (yes, bigger than Christmas). Good Friday marks the Crucifixion; the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday night celebrates the Jesus' triumph over death.
Then everybody who can comes to church on Sunday and celebrates Life.
And then all those who make the observances happen take weary naps!
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
What concerns Roberts is that self-driving cars could easily lend themselves to a development path rather like what we've experienced with the internet. When the technology has been perfected, and vehicles have largely switched to ever cheaper electric power derived from solar and other sustainable sources (which he predicts), the costs for companies providing urban rides will become lower and lower. Once they've bought a fleet of cars, not a huge cost in a developed industry, successful companies might compete for customers through a price war, driving the share paid by customers down to nearly $0. Sounds great, doesn't it? We'll get around our cities free!
Except that any business has to make money somehow. Most likely, fleet companies will turn to advertising within the cars. And, for the cheaper rides, most likely we'll put up with this.
But then the war for market share will make it the necessary business model for fleets to encourage us to run about in their cars more and more so they can sell more and more advertising. The end result:
Yet more reasons to struggle for strong public transportation!
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
But we're also living in the 100th anniversary of what came to be called the "Spanish" disease. In one devastating year, this world wide influenza pandemic killed at least 50 million people (and arguably 100 million), at very least nearly one third more than the estimated 37 million military and civilian casualties of the four year war. British science journalist Laura Spinney's Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World is a fascinating account of this health catastrophe.
Because it came on so fast and swept onward so rapidly -- the acute phase causing the most infections and deaths usually lasted only about 3 months in any one location -- it is hard to give a general picture. Moreover the consequences of flu's arrival in any one place were radically different. In general, most developed locales has less deaths; perhaps half of one percent of the population died in the US and northern Europe. Meanwhile the flu took a ferocious toll in regions with less developed health facilities such as British India where 18 million are thought to have died. The highest known percentage toll in a subgroup was among Alaskan natives where in some villages 40 percent succumbed.
Spinney deals with the wide diffusion, differences in impact, and cultural and social variations in the responses by telling the story as a series of vignettes in widely separated locations. She has adopted a consciously unorthodox narrative technique:
On the one hand, this serves her narrative well for this reader -- I found myself pulling out particular anecdotes and musing over them, glad for her inclusive survey. At the same time, I've not at all sure Spinney succeeded in painting a connected big picture. Perhaps an historian with such a diffuse subject can't. Each episodic anecdote could be its own historical narrative and probably has been or will be.
To demonstrate Spinney's technique, here are some fascinating, accessible, tidbits from her description of how the flu hit what she calls the "Imperial Metropolis," New York City.
Spinney's account of the scientists' subsequent search for and recreation of the flu virus -- H1N1 -- is narrated in a more linear manner than the picture of the epidemic itself and quite fascinating. This is basic health science which we would all do well to have more awareness of. Her attempt to describe the economic and cultural aftermath of the great pandemic is more suggestive than conclusive; that field of investigation should be rich for other writers. The books title is derived from the apocalyptic Book of Revelation, as well as from one of the flu's literary offspring: Katharine Ann Porter's Pale Horse, Pale Rider.
Readers who liked Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee's Emperor of All Maladies about our increasing understanding of cancer, and other medical histories, will like this book as well. It was good reading while I sat out a case of flu this winter.
Monday, March 26, 2018
The team members are impressive too.
Sunday, March 25, 2018
the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were present of course) but great to see this young man's sign. In general, it was great to see so many young men -- I'm used to seeing more young women than their peers at protest events.
Saturday, March 24, 2018
The Brits are being subjected to a barrage of Russian-origin fake news denying Russian responsibility for the poisoning with a military grade nerve agent of a former spy and his daughter. This propaganda is not so much designed to change minds about "who done it" as to make people feel they cannot possibly know what is true. This is a signature tactic of modern dictatorships -- people get worn out amid the chaos and look away. This is not the same thing as responding to citizens' honest desire for evidence, either. It's noise to drown out understanding.
So the British Foreign Office has struck back not with refutations but with mockery. Enjoy.
H/t Anne Applebaum.
This is your daily reminder that Barack Obama never needed to hire a lawyer in 8 years of his presidency. pic.twitter.com/F8v0uwOXZI— Black Lives Matter (@usblm) March 22, 2018
EXCLUSIVE: Here’s the letter @BarackObama and @MichelleObama wrote to the #ParklandShooting survivors. In it, the former president and first lady tell the teens that they’ve “inspired” them, and commend them on “awakening the conscience of our nation.” https://t.co/FOQYVguNFw pic.twitter.com/xEPHE6iUL2— Mic (@mic) March 21, 2018
Friday, March 23, 2018
Expect war before the midterm elections ...
National information is here.
Just about every Bay Area town has its own march or rally. List of events here.
Local organizers are newbies to rallying and seem to be doing a decent job of learning the nuts and bolts of big coalition events.
Let's hope there's also recognition that for too many black and brown young people, the gun violence danger comes from the cops as the Sacramento shooting of unarmed 22-year-old Stephon Clark demonstrates, yet again.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
It's just as bad as it seems -- and not nearly so bad at all. That's how I respond to the news that the Mercer-funded, Bannon-led data manipulation/psychographic profiling company Cambridge Analytica used 50 million scraped Facebook profiles in the service of the Trump campaign. This sort of thing is not new. This particular bunch may be vile actors, but we're kidding ourselves if we see evil geniuses lurking here. Cambridge Analytica and their sponsors participated in a win; it's in their interest to claim all the credit they can seize. But nothing in the story I've seen comes close to proving this fraction of the Trump campaign put their guy over the top. In an election this close, it is probably impossible to tease out any simple variable that did the job. Everybody in the Trump menagerie can and will take credit.
Yes, Facebook enabled this. Selling us -- our interests, our concerns, our enthusiasms -- to businesses that want to sell us their thing (be that a commodity or an ideology) is what Facebook dines on. We're all hooked on having our lives integrated into the internet; if it weren't Facebook, it would be some other tech behemoth.
In campaigns, what consultants (hacks) sell to politicians is the promise that they know what messages should be delivered to which people in order to assemble that oh-so-elusive 50 percent plus one on election day. Elections seen from within campaigns are a tough and often nasty business. Voters can be motivated by hope -- or voters can be motivated by fear. Both approaches work although the latter is often easier to evoke.
Political consultants are utilitarians, drawn to whatever they think will work. They may have some limits, some scruples, about what urges they are willing to weaponize. But in the heat of the campaign, those can become strained. Whether the campaign draws any ethical lines in choosing a route to victory is usually a matter of laws and of decisions among top management -- or limits from the candidate. Ah ... we can begin to see where there might be a problem here ...
I've been there, up close. When I was working on an initiative in 2012, a vendor offered us a phone calling program that would enable us to make calls to Facebook friends of people from a dataset we had selected based on the usual sorts of variables like location, age, race, and voting history. This included a flashy presentation of technology which we were assured would be the next great new thing!
I thought then and think now that demographic profiling for commercial purposes makes variants of this inevitable. If we want to participate in online social media as it currently exists, this is the cost in privacy we pay. It's not just Cambridge Analytica, it's the web business model. How else to monetize us?
(In that particular campaign, the tech was attractive, but we decided not to go there, not out of privacy concerns, but out of a rational calculation that this approach wouldn't render a more well-targeted effort on the scale we could afford than much cheaper database management tools. It would have been a fun experiment.)
Karen Tumulty at the Washington Post offers the most interesting observation on Facebook/Cambridge Analytica that I've read:
Read it all.
The headline to this post is a take on a previous post on a Democratic postmortem.
The crisis of journalism's business model and the Trump ascendency have forced elite institutions to reexamine their goals and standards. We're in a new day when the "paper of record" announces forthrightly that the President is a liar. "Objectivity" -- he said, she said reporting -- has been fully unmasked as "a management tool to control the behavior of the newspaper's employees." Careful balancing of unequal "facts" both fails the reader and won't deflect criticism anyway. Unexamined stenography of the emissions of those with the most potent microphones serves no one (except maybe the loudmouths). She envisions more fruitful use of journalistic energy.
Today the internet provides access to raw information to anyone who will do the digging; the best of reporting, fair and accurate but without false "objectivity," can help us understand what to make of it all.
This graceful short book is well worth a couple of hours to read and ponder.
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
So, I installed Privacy Badger on my main web browser. The simple gizmo is offered free from the Electronic Frontier Foundation which fights for civil liberties in the digital world.
No more leggings or many other small ads not already caught by AdBlock! There have been no problems with web sites loading, though some may be a hair slow.
I get that much of what we enjoy on the web has no business model except to sell us to advertisers. But unless advertisers can figure out how to make their offerings attractive instead of mind numbing, we'll keep on trying to block.
UPDATE 4/2020: Try this for a more up-to-date article on ad blockers.
Monday, March 19, 2018
According to Grist:
Climate Matters is an initiative of the science communication orgnization Climate Central which provides TV meteorologists with usable information on the relationship between weather and climate. The program has grown to include more than 300 local TV meteorologists who reach millions of viewers.
Given that local TV news is too often just a junk pile of violent crime and trivialities, yet also where more than 50% of us look for information, this is a powerful campaign.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
Over here on this side of the ocean, we haven't heard much about the response from the Labour Party, the official opposition. That should matter; Labour is nearly as strong with British voters as May's Tories. So what is Labour saying? Their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, laid out his response in the Guardian.
First and foremost, he reassures that his party understands that something very wrong has taken place. And they want it investigated properly.
Since Labour is always tarred (mostly inaccurately) by its rightwing opponents with coming from a pinkish, commie-sympathizing, pro-Soviet history, Corbyn bluntly denounces the Russia that is.
But he points out that Labour does have a policy idea that would seriously punish Russia for its international misdeeds: stop allowing the London real estate and financial markets to act as a haven for Russian billionaires.
Labour voters remain suspicious of the government in this crisis; they and Corbyn remember that a previous government took them to war in Iraq on the basis of intelligence lies. They want the evidence out before the public -- and if the evidence is good, Labour does have a prescription about what the nation ought to do.
I can't help wondering whether our Democratic leaders would be so relatively capable of responding thoughtfully when/if this country confronts a similar crisis. After all, a majority of us believe, with plenty of evidence, that Russia helped give us an unfit president. We don't react well to Ruskies. And our crony capitalist sector is also awash in corrupt Russian money -- just look at who buys those gold-plated Trump Organization digs.
Our Democratic politicians too often stampede easily when told national security is at stake. I find this even more worth thinking through as the Russia investigation pushes closer and closer to Donald Trump. This president would have no scruples against ginning up a security crisis if he thought it might save his hide. We'll be darn lucky if we don't see this, especially before the midterm elections. Democratic leaders better thing ahead about how to calm and critique (and if need be resist), if push comes to shove.
Ditto the last paragraph if Trump tries to quash the Russia investigation. ...
Saturday, March 17, 2018
invented vacuum packing and modern coffee tins, enabling them to expand their business from a portside coffee stand into a block long Mediterranean Romanesque edifice in the mid-1920s.
The old building is currently occupied by some apartments and many offices, mostly used by Google and Mozilla.
Friday, March 16, 2018
Salam is not the only one; the rightwing echo chamber (Fox News, Breitbart, etc.) seems to agree with him that Clinton has somehow in these words made a "moral" critique" of those who didn't vote for her.
Dude -- she's just stating facts. The only adjective here that might be construed as having a "moral" content is "optimistic". If you think optimism (or pessimism) constitutes innate character, just maybe there's some sense in this. I don't think that way nor I expect do most people. I think of either quality as mostly a responses to real surrounding conditions, usually a fairly accurate reading.
I asked E.P., my resident local ethicist, what she thinks is going on in this sentence. She suspects that Clinton's rightwing hearers believe that somehow she's accused them of being racists. I guess they may be hearing Clinton that way, though it seems absent from these words, only present in their prickly (guilty?) psyches.
Salam goes on to draw a picture of a country with two parallel societies, Clinton's "Trickle Down America" and Trump's "Stagnant America." He indicts prosperous cities with being run for the benefit of ripoff capitalists (true), while exploiting low wage workers, often people of color and/or undocumented immigrants (true). He then has the decency to point out that the policies Clinton campaigned on would have moderated these ills.
He doesn't describe how he thinks "Stagnant America" is doing. Not so well, judging by his own label. Hopelessness and poverty aren't usually good for people. Clinton's policies might have done some good there too, though he neglects to mention this.
I grew up in "Stagnant America" even before the label "Rust Belt" had begun to be applied to aging industrial centers. The downward trajectory could be felt even when steel and auto were still huge. Salam is right; when economies pass their peak and contract, the folks who live amidst the dislocation and pain get hurt. How about we try to help them, rather than exploit their pain to mobilize resentment?
In case you are wondering, the photo is of Chicago from Evanston.
Thursday, March 15, 2018
The California Supreme Court just ruled that the evidence that that child had been molested was simply not true.
The jury in the case was told that the child's body showed damage to her anus.
The court could have reduced Benavides' conviction to second degree murder -- something killed the child on his watch -- but instead sent him back to Kern County for retrial.
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper says this record shouldn't worry us.
I am not reassured. Haspel already showed she rolls over and plays dead when higher authorities want wrongdoing hidden:
Those wusses Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham have made clucking noises about appointing a known torturer. Will they voter to confirm one?
Meanwhile California Senator Diane Feinstein, who as the lead promoter of the Congressional Torture Report which the Obama administration and the CIA tried to kill, seems to have gone squishy on the perpetrators of "enhanced interrogation techniques."
We continue to be shamed by the legacy of the Bush Administration's embrace of what Dick Cheney called "the dark side."
UPDATE: Now Senator Feinstein has gone squishy on being squishy. It's hard to pin that one down.
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
But I do wonder, if Latinas don't manage to influence the design, whether sometime in the future this figure may seem as embarrassing -- even offensive -- as this San Francisco 19th century erection seems to us today.
We've got plenty of our own local political squabbles, but we're pretty united when it comes to Mr. 45.
All photos taken in 2018 while Walking San Francisco.
Monday, March 12, 2018
We humans are just not good enough at driving to be trusted with cars. And even if we are pretty good drivers, our human operating systems can go very wrong, very suddenly.
- New York is buzzing about the city's failure to file charges against a woman whose car killed two children and injured their mother in a crosswalk. Police say she may have had a stroke and simply isn't chargeable under current vehicular laws.
- An 88 year old friend of mine who was driving alone recently found herself (and her car) in a snowbank, smack up against a sign post. She couldn't say what had happened.
- At 89, my own mother had some sort of TIA (transient ischemic attack) while backing her car up in a parking lot, hit the gas instead of the brake, killed one woman, injured another, and hit three parked cars. She had no memory of the event, mercifully, and, of course, never drove again. There were no charges.
There are plenty of skeptics about the potential of self-driving cars; maybe this technology is a pipe dream or a scam. But I doubt it; there's money to be made by reducing the amount of human driver-labor (trucks, passenger rides) that has to be paid for. If the technology proves also a boon to old people, that's just a by-product.
Autonomous cars are now legally out and about in California. Yes, there still must be a human driver aboard in case of crisis and any accident, ever the most minor fender-bender, must be reported to the DMV. (I snapped the photo above on Potrero Hill while Walking San Francisco; there seem to be a lot of them up there.) It will take lots of miles of service for the technology to become more certain.
I'm ready for true self-driving cars to arrive! On this subject, I'm believing the hype.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Some U.S. evangelicals of color have long been striving to live their faith without feeling they had to take on a white Christianity that erased their roots, their families, their cultures. In January, Religion Dispatches published an interview with sociologist Russell Jeung under the pugnacious headline “I Think the White Evangelical Church is Dead”: on ‘Guilt’ vs. ‘Shame’ and Decolonizing Asian-American Christianity. The professor told correspondent Deborah Jian Lee how he sees Asian evangelicals adapting:
At Home in Exile: Finding Jesus among My Ancestors and Refugee Neighbors is about Jeung learning who he is, and who his neighbors are. After graduating from San Francisco's Lowell High School and Stanford, he moved by choice and in faith into a decaying rental building populated by very poor Cambodian refugees, in a neighborhood of Mexican and Guatemalan undocumented laborers. What did he do there? Live and learn among his neighbors.
In Oakland, he reflected on what he had learned from his Chinese roots. His people who immigrated to California were Hakkas, an underclass minority in China who were landless, "guest people." His great grandmother was a tough character, fishing abalone in Monterey Bay until white merchants burned out the little Chinese settlement and the family ended up in San Francisco Chinatown. His father served in World War II, took advantage of the G.I. bill to complete college, and by the time Russell was growing up, had joined the Chinese middle class. Living in Oakland, Jeung came to name his identity:
After many years, Jeung eventually helped his neighbors win a legal fight to have their building restored to habitability. In that context he discovered that, though living standards were improved, other qualities of his community that he valued were lost. Many of his neighbors
Dr. Jeung's faith culture is not mine, but I can easily join with Dr. Jeung in affirming that all healthy cultures hold in high esteem both service to others from individuals and collective social responsibility, truths undervalued by our polity and society.
Saturday, March 10, 2018
All encountered while Walking San Francisco.