Thursday, January 31, 2019

Contemplating the shapes of the world

We have hung a new shower curtain. The top 4/5s of it is a quite detailed map of the boundaries and cities of the contemporary world. Looking at it daily is improving my grasp of national geographies. At the bottom are outlines of seven continents without interior markings. I find myself staring long and hard at this blob:
Yes, that's Asia. But what is "Asia" anyway? It almost looks to consist of everywhere Europeans either don't include in "Europe" or perhaps didn't "discover" when they left "Europe." What else does Kamchatka have to do with Ceylon?

The ancestors of those Europeans who invented these continental naming conventions would likely have centered their map around the Mediterranean Sea and might well have included modern Turkey, Palestine, and perhaps even Egypt and Libya in their sense of the land masses that mattered and were all one known civilization.

On the other hand, would they really have thought the Nordic lands and the wild expanses of Russia, even the portion west of the Ural Mountains, were part of the same whole? I doubt it.

Will we always think of "continents" as we do today? Perhaps some day people will categorize land masses yet some other way. It is interesting to contemplate the arbitrariness of conventional divisions.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Because migrants are human

She could have said a lot of things about Trump's Wall. She could have said it would be ineffective, expensive, disastrous for border communities and landowners. But she called it "an immorality."

via ytCropper
It's probably accurate to assume that the reason that ungrammatical label sprang to her mind goes back to Nancy Pelosi's good Roman Catholic education in Baltimore.

Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, archbishop of Newark, lays out Catholic teaching on migration in an oped. It's actually rather simple:

Is the border wall ethical? President Trump has suggested the wall is moral and those who oppose it immoral. His critics claim the opposite.

To answer this, we have to consider its effect on humans. What harm could a border wall cause to immigrants and refugees, all of whom are equal to us in the eyes of God?

... You must also look at the intent of someone who wants to construct a wall in order to determine its morality. In this case, it is clear that Mr. Trump wants to deny entry to anyone crossing the southern border, even those who have a right to cross and seek protection and are no threat to us. ...

... The way in which Mr. Trump has argued for a wall also is instructive. In trying to secure funding, he has cast all immigrants as criminals and threats to national security by spreading misleading and inaccurate information about them. His justification for the wall is based upon lies and smears against the vast majority of immigrants who are law-abiding and moral, but whom he paints as less than human. ...

... Immigration reform that is humane and honors our nation’s values must finally be enacted, and the root causes of global migration addressed. ...

Migrants are sister and brother human beings. To act otherwise is an "immorality."

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

On beyond the RESIST moment

As I walk around middling neighborhoods in San Francisco, the bumper stickers are still prominent; many, many, of us responded to the shock of seeing Donald Trump elevated to the White House by engaging, protesting, and eventually electing a Democratic House of Representatives. Locally, we can enjoy the spectacle of our Congresscritter putting President Blunderbuss in his place.

But after two years, though we still need to protest and impede Trump's racist authoritarianism, we can't allow ourselves to become exhausted spectators to a faraway Washington drama. People are being hurt and terrible policy choices are being locked in by a GOP coterie of con-men masquerading as a cabinet. We need to be envisioning what we do want from government more than what we don't want.

And it turns out, such re-envisioning is just what majorities of us have been doing with results that surprise the cautious establishments of both political parties.

For starters, we don't want Donald Trump in 2020. According to a Washington Post/ABC news poll:

A 56 percent majority of all Americans say they would “definitely not vote for him” should Trump become the Republican nominee, while 14 percent say they would consider voting for him and 28 percent would definitely vote for him. Majorities of independents (59 percent), women (64 percent) and suburbanites (56 percent) rule out supporting Trump for a second term.

Even with our absurdly unrepresentative Electoral College, you can't elect a president with those numbers.

But even more to the point, somehow the stresses of the last two years have moved public opinion in some clear new directions:

A strong majority of Americans support sharply raising taxes on the wealthy. A plurality disapproves of the large corporate tax cut passed by the Republican Congress in 2017. A whopping 70 percent of the country — and even 52 percent of Republicans — support Medicare for all. More than half of the country wants to see abortion remain legally available (with that number dropping below a majority only late in pregnancy.) Fifty-seven percent of Americans (and 69 percent of military veterans) would support removing all troops from Afghanistan after 17 years of stalemate.

Damon Linker, The Week

And there's plenty more: no amount of presidential bluster moved more than 60 percent of us to think it worth shutting down the government for a Wall. Trump's Wall, Trump's push to Make America White Again, simply doesn't cut it for most of us.

And Linker missed a couple of vital items. We don't know quite what we mean yet, but bipartisan support for something called a "Green New Deal" hit 81 percent in December.

And for all the saber rattling from Washington, the powers-that-be act as if they know that getting directly militarily engaged in Venezuela would be wildly unpopular. (Sure hope I'm right on that one, but I think that's the lesson they've taken from nearly two decades of lingering wars of choice.)

And so -- we've moved on from the simplicity and unity of the RESIST moment. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done to flesh out where we want to go; inevitably different people will work on different parts of this. And that work will generate different priorities

But the catalogue of items laid out above are no longer fringe ideas -- I would expect that all the aspiring Dem presidents will at least give them lip service.

Resistance gave us that. Now we have to fumble through all available means, including the political thickets, to make our newly clarified majority wishes into realities.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Incongruity noted

When this disconcerting item turned up in the news, I wondered whether the evangelicals who are trying to inject their faith into public schools would be emphasizing the bit of Luke's Gospel we heard read yesterday. Jesus kicked off his ministry to the world by quoting an ancient prophet of his people:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
 and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Somehow I doubt this was what the folks behind several state bills had in mind. But I could be wrong.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Rant: can we practice solidarity without bullshit?

Neighbors and friends gathered on Friday night in the 'hood to protest U.S. intervention in Venezuela. Goodness knows, there's plenty to protest. The Trump administration has appointed Elliott Abrams, a tired old miscreant who was deep in Ronald Reagan's Iran-Contra law breaking, to superintend its policy. Nobody should rest easy when a nationalist U.S. regime starts threatening to intervene in favor of "democracy" or "human rights" in a country south of the border. The record is long and brutal; see for example Before Venezuela, US had long involvement in Latin America.

But just because the U.S. is up to its old imperial tricks doesn't mean that leftists, anti-interventionists, and peace loving folks should blind themselves to realities on the ground in Venezuela. The testimony of the smarter investigative media and too many Venezuelans is loud and summed up well by Joshua Alvarez :

Nicolas Maduro’s reign of power in Venezuela is illegitimate. Not only was his latest election to the presidency stolen, he’s presiding over a failed state that is harming its own citizens and causing South America’s own gigantic refugee crisis.

Maduro claimed to have "won" the presidency in an election in May 2018 with

68 percent of the vote despite having an approval rating of just 21 percent.

I could see Trump emulating that one.

Deceased president Hugo Chavez legitimately won the support of many of of the poorest Venezuelans by sharing some the country's oil wealth with inmates of Caracas' slums. The U.S. and our oil companies hated him, but he was a smart left populist who knew how to play on nation pride. He may not have built a sustainable economy and polity, but a good-size section of the people believed he was trying against subversion from a bourgeoisie abetted by the Yankees. The opposition was split by its own rivalries and never convinced Venezuelans that it was out for the nation instead of the U.S. and its own class interests. Maduro, Chavez' designated successor, has been unable to either pick up his mantle or run the country effectively. Venezuelans are getting out if they can.

So what does all this mean for leftists in San Francisco? Friday's little rally should have been at the very least a defensible moral statement against U.S. imperial actions.

Instead, the speakers I heard (briefly) were simply idiotic. We can't allow ourselves to be trapped in a tired template that defaults to "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." We wouldn't support ordinary Venezuelans by supporting Trump administration "diplomacy"; that's easy. But Maduro's rule is not something that decent progressives can applaud either. (And certainly we get nothing by using a rally against intervention in Venezuela to rail against the faults of the Obama administration or Democrats in general. Focus, folks!)

The collective efforts of Latin American countries, which are already bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis, offer the best hope for a less violent, more popular resolution for a people who've lived dashed hopes and gross impoverishment. There may be no good outcome in sight, but sure as ever it won't come because North Americans make fools of themselves about other peoples' struggles.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Mission branch public library is getting a remodel

City librarians and architects explained the project to 30 or so interested but anxious neighbors and users on Saturday afternoon. (H/t to Mission Local for alerting me to this meeting.)

Hey -- didn't they just do this to the branch? That's how it felt to many in attendance. We were reminded that those last big changes happened way back in 1997, consisting of a very necessary earthquake upgrade.

The building is a Carnegie Library, fruit of early 20th century philanthropic uplift, which means it is historic, elegant, and impractical as hell for a modern facility. It is also well loved and well used, including housing half of the San Francisco Public Library's entire Spanish-language children's collection.

This time around we'll be getting a restored central staircase, returning to something closer to the building's original floor plan while converting much of the interior into what is called a "community living room." Let's hope this works out as well in practice as in aspiration; the librarians sure try to accommodate all-comers, so it might.

A couple of the architects' improvements fell under what they labeled environmental "resiliency" -- that is building for anticipated climate change. This city will be warmer, so the entire place will be air conditioned, serving as a neighborhood "cooling center." It will also be constructed as a possible "Smoke Refuge," somewhere to retreat to when California's big wildfires befoul our air as they did last November.

All this will require shutting down for 1.5 to 2 years starting in summer 2020. There will be some kind of library access somewhere as yet undetermined. Let's hope it is close by; the library helps the Mission feel the very special neighborhood it is.

Saturday scenery: dogs of the Haight-Ashbury

The human's best friend is prominent among the street people along the neighborhood's sidewalks.

They fit right in among the tourist traps, part of the scenery.

They are curious about passersby, but have learned to keep their distance.

Big yawn here.

I assume these substantial mutts protect their people. And their humans look as if they need some protection. The allure of the Haights' streets passed me by even in the neighborhood's heyday; it's continued attraction leaves me cold. Whatever is going on in that space is opaque to a mere wandering pedestrian.

All encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The new incarnation of Senator Moonbeam

Young Brown.
That headline requires a little explication. In 1982, two-term California Governor Jerry Brown ran for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican S.I. Hayakawa. Jerry had been a mixed bag as Governor, but he seemed a wonderful choice for the Senate, a visionary with big ideas well-suited to an office in which day to day administrative competence was not very important. That's funny to remember now that we've seen two more terms from Guv Jerry in which administrative competence was a cornerstone of his tenure. Anyway, lot of Californians looked forward to seeing the still youthful Brown blow the minds of the old fogies in DC; but alas, more Californians wanted Pete Wilson instead ... and that eventually led to terrible times for the state GOP.

Now that Jerry has finished two more largely successful terms in Sacramento, at age 80, he's back to a visionary role. He's been named "executive chairman" of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, sounding the alarm about climate change and nuclear catastrophe. At the Bulletin's annual shindig announcing the position of their alarming doomsday clock which currently sits at 2 minutes to midnight, Brown laid out our peril:
“The blindness and stupidity of the politicians and their consultants is truly shocking in the face of nuclear catastrophe,” Brown said. “We know that thousands of these weapons on high alert could be launched by mistake…. We are almost like travelers on the Titanic, seeing the iceberg up ahead but enjoying the elegant dining and the music.”

“The danger and probability is mounting that there will be some kind of nuclear incident that will kill millions, if not initiating exchanges that will kill billions,” he declared.

... And Brown had a message for the media too, which he says too often focuses on petty Washington drama and the political horse race over the increasing dangers of nuclear annihilation and environmental collapse.

“You love Trump’s tweets,” he said. “You love the leads and to get the clicks. But the final click could be a nuclear accident or mistake.”

The power of a good idea whose time has come

Still neutral on the Dem presidential hopefuls -- I need a shorthand nickname for this gaggle. Any suggestions?

But if Elizabeth Warren can spread the idea that it is the responsibility of government to ensure that the country's wealth is better distributed, she'll have served us well. She wants to tax, moderately, not just "earnings" but the stored horde of accumulated wealth that gives the One Percent their permanent sway among us.

Note that this is not just a throwaway line political line from Warren: she's assembled the economic experts to design a tax that would do the job. Read all about it here.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

It's been a long, strange, trip

It gives one pause to have this turn up in the mail. 1969 was a long time ago and a great deal has happened since.

Just perhaps, the country and its people are finally moving beyond the backwash of those turbulent times. We were so hopeful -- and some people were so angry. Sometimes the hopeful and the angry were the same people.

These days majorities of us seem to want more racial justice, more gender justice, and a government that serves all the people, weakest first. That's what many of us wanted back then. And we scared the bejesus out of the powerful. Much repression and grinding suppression ensued, as well as uneven gains for human freedom that felt sporadic and always tenuous.

Supposing we fight off outright fascism and keep the planet habitable, might we find our way to a less contested commonwealth? Now there's a nice old-fashioned word and concept? I like it. Nothing to do but keep on keepin' on.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Hints of what is to come

I am not ready.

I understand why Dems who want to be president have begun coming out of the woodwork. They do have to test out their shows on the road right now. They have to establish who they are and why they want to be the Big Dog. For what it is worth (nothing), I am completely neutral among candidates at this stage -- excluding only Tulsi Gabbard who seems a putrid opportunist.

But I see hints of good developments. The Trump shit show seems to be driving Dem politicians away from their worst habit: trying to be all things to all people by obscuring the issues that divide us.

Two tidbits that flew by today:
  • The Washington Post's David Weigel concluded from South Carolina where Cory Booker and Bernie Sanders made themselves visible for MLK Day:

    A party that used to triangulate around the demands of black leaders in the South now sees a strong, activated black vote as the most obvious part of a winning coalition.

    If you want to keep up on the 2020 campaign, read Weigel; he's the most interesting, diligent, wide ranging political reporter out there.
  • Meanwhile that wise, warmed-over Clintonite, Simon Rosenberg used an extended interview with Leon Krauze on Trumpcast to urge aspiring Democratic presidents to "lean in" on immigration. By this he seemed to mean to explain to the U.S. population that immigration is good for the country, essential to all of our well-being including that of the immigrants, and that a policy both humane and widely beneficial is possible. These may seem obvious pronouncements until you consider the source: Rosenberg and his ilk of Washington policy purveyors have spent decades urging Dems to muddy their stances on immigration, to try to be all things to all people -- while grassroots groups raged at their timidity. No more. Thanks Donald.
It will be vital in 2020 for us all to unite around whoever ends up securing the Democratic nomination -- but there are already strong hints that our necessary Big Tent may feel far more healthy, less odiferous, to progressives than has been true for awhile.

Blog on temporary hold ...

Here's the view out the window in the lovely space in Vermont where we're staying for an undetermined time to assist a friend. It's cold (0F) but beautiful.

I may post occasionally, but on an undetermined schedule.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Attentive medicine

Dr. Victoria Sweet's publisher describes God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine as an account of the practice of "attentive medicine." I like that. I had been meaning to read this book ever since I'd heard of it.

Dr. Sweet's story of working and learning at San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital wanders through her study of (and experiments with practicing) the medieval abbess Hildegard of Bingen's medical prescriptions; a pilgrimage on foot along several sections of the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain; and always returns to the lessons in healing that her patients and community at the city's repository for its sick poor taught her over twenty years of service. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Here's a sample of the sort of wisdom Dr. Sweet offers. Summoned to the bedside of a disturbed patient, she found herself diagnosing the woman's malady without all the paraphernalia of modern scientific care. Of course she brought to the encounter her decades of medical experience. But, she reflected,

I had done so little for her ... I hadn't looked into her eyes, held her hand, or reviewed all her records. I'd done nothing at all. Except sit. But how effective that had been! ... Somehow just be sitting with her, I'd understood what was wrong.

... after Ms. Gilroy, I took the time to 'just sit' in this way with all my patients. Especially if they took a turn for the worse, or if a nurse or family was worried that something wasn't quite right. ... Not for long -- five or ten minutes. Sometimes the patient would want to chat, and we would chat, and sometimes I would study the patient's face, bedclothes, and bureau. But mostly I would just sit. And something, somehow, would happen. It would become clear what, if anything was wrong with the patient and what, if anything, I could do about it.

The book turned out to be a perfect companion for a visit to a friend whose life situation seemed to require an intervention of some sort -- just what sort I wasn't sure. (Hence the recent blog interruption.) It turned out that intervention largely meant conversation, some apparently quiet time, and hopeful silence in place. Whether anything concrete has been accomplished, only more time will reveal.
A nice feature of this book that might escape notice is a set a chapter notes which offer suggestions for accessible reading on medical history and other topics. It would not be hard to make a course out of these suggestions -- and probably some teacher has done so.
Despite having lived in San Francisco over forty years, I only visited the old, unimproved, Laguna Honda once -- on an incomprehensible mission that I am sure Dr. Sweet would appreciate. When I was part of the Martin de Porres Catholic Worker community, someone (I forget who if I ever knew) gave us a truckload of unopened, very heavy, boxes of ceramic tile. There wasn't anything wrong with the tiles -- but we had no need for ceramic tiles. Unless you wanted it, it had no value. The stuff hung around, too big for doorstops, taking up space we didn't have. Finally someone figured out she had a friend who worked at Laguna Honda -- perhaps a gardener or janitor. This individual wanted the tile -- for what purpose I never found out. So we drove the stuff up the hill, at night, covertly, and unloaded behind the building. And that was that. Perhaps the tile came in handy to some part of the Laguna Honda community somehow? It was that sort of place, as Dr. Sweet testifies.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Friday cat blogging

Jack is a mighty hunter, bringing home the disemboweled remnants of flying squirrels. But he's also not above taking advantage of a little human-provided stove heat.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Probably not this day

The good folks of the volunteer fire department never got around to giving their signage a seasonal upgrade. But fortunately there is a volunteer fire department.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

These young people are supporting the Los Angeles teacher strike

Californians for Justice organizes high school age youth to envision and fight for racial justice in their lives. The young people have campaigned for several years for what they call "relationship centered schools." They are demanding that the schools ensure they encounter adults they can relate to. When such adults are lacking, students disengage. When they meet teachers and others who care about them, who do not cling to unequal expectations of them based on race or zip code, they can thrive.

And so CFJ youth are huge supporters of the UTLA strike. The teachers and the kids are on the same track: if the powers-that-be don't find the money to pay teachers better and to provide needed resources, they fear they'll lose the adults who can serve as their anchors:

Without the support of public officials and the additional investment of resources, teachers–especially those working in low-income schools with predominantly Black and Brown student populations–are being forced to leave their schools and communities behind to find living wages. We’ve already seen this in Bay Area communities like Oakland, where the district is struggling to retain teachers–and teachers of color in particular–due to the housing crisis and the increased cost of living.

This pattern of teacher turnover is detrimental to students and communities of color and makes it hard to build Relationship Centered Schools where all students, staff, and administrators feel safe, supported, and capable of thriving.

CFJ Student Leader Jiawen Wang who is a student at Oakland High expressed this concern recently: “When teachers come and go we lose the strong connections students need to feel safe and comfortable at school. We can struggle and fall behind in our classes. We can become overwhelmed and not know who to turn to for assistance. We can check out and go through an entire day without talking in class or connecting with an adult.”

Los Angeles and the entire state of California can do better by the young people who are the future.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

"My faith is the key to my optimism."

When former President George H.W. Bush died in November, the glaring contrast between him and the current White House occupant made for fulsome eulogies from all sides. After all, whatever he was, he was an adult, not a toddler; courageous in war, not a whining coward; and competent, not an self-indulgent bumbler. I couldn't much praise him -- his pardons sweeping the Iran-Contra crimes under a legal rug disqualified him from my admiration. But others differed and many chose to speak well of the dead.

It all reminded me that we do have a living former president who has proved himself over decades to be a genuinely decent human being. Jimmy Carter (in office 1976-80) was perhaps not the wisest of presidents. By unnecessarily inviting the deposed Shah (dictatorial monarch) of Iran into the country for medical treatment, he set in train events which have put the US in conflict with Iranian nationalism to this day. As a US politician, he didn't understand the importance of unions to the Democratic coalition, contributing mightily his Republican successors' successful assault on labor.

He wasn't a great president.

But he has been a fine example of how a former president can make himself (still no herselves!) a socially useful force for good. The media always focuses on the warm fuzzy stuff, like building houses in poor communities with Habitat for Humanity and teaching Bible classes at his humble Georgia Baptist church. But Carter has traveled the world encouraging free elections and civil peace, while speaking unpopular truths when he has felt he must. For example, he was excoriated for labeling Israel's treatment of its Palestinian subjects an analogue of South Africa's white supremacist "apartheid."

So GHW Bush's obsequies reminded me that I wanted to read Jimmy Carter's latest and probably last of 32 books, issued last year in his 93rd year. Faith: a journey for all strikes me as likely akin to the Bible study talks he has been delivering for decades, yet designed to provide the contours of the life story he'd like told at his own funeral. I read it in an audio version which he reads himself, clearly and sweetly; I would highly recommend this to anyone curious about Carter.

We know he's a Christian, a forthright follower of Jesus, but not therefore a closed minded fundamentalist, a type he abhors. He makes it clear that his faith set his path.

I believe ... that Christians are called to plunge into the life of the world, and to inject the moral and ethical values of our faith into the processes of governing. At the same time, there must be an absolute prohibition against granting any control by government over our religious freedoms.

... To me, God is the essence of all that is good, and my faith in God induces a pleasant feeling of responsibility to act accordingly.

In a time when the religious right has overrun white evangelical Protestantism, it's hard to recall how simply conventional these views once were in those quarters. In 1978, while serving as president, he sought to convey the breadth of the calling he believes should define his co-religionists while speaking to a Baptist audience:

What are the goals of a person or a denomination or a country? They are all remarkably the same: a desire for peace; a need for humility, for examining one's faults and turning away from them; a commitment to human rights in the broadest sense of the words, based on a moral society concerned with the alleviation of suffering because of deprivation or hatred or hunger or physical affliction; and a willingness, even an eagerness, to share one's ideals, one's faith with others; to translate love in a person to justice.

No wonder the political world thought/thinks him a crazy idealist. Yet his faith enables him to call out the precariousness of human society with a forthrightness practicing politicians know they must avoid.

It is sobering to realize that the average human intelligence's probably not changed appreciably during the last ten thousand years. In fact, the total capacity of brains of Neanderthals has been found to be greater than that of modern humans. We also know that the process of learning has greatly accelerated during recent times with our improved ability to share information rapidly.

For the first time, we have become aware that our own existence is threatened by things such as nuclear weapons and global warming. These recognized threats are, perhaps, an ongoing test of our human intelligence, our freedom, and our ability to shape our own destiny. The human challenge now is to survive by having sustained faith in each other and in the highest common moral principles that we have spasmodically evolved, and through mutual understanding and peaceful cooperation in addressing the discerned challenges to our common existence.

Carter declares himself calm inside and ready for death, knowing death must come soon. His faith tells him that "the love of God will prevail" in the creation that God has made.

When Carter dies, I doubt he'll receive the sort of effusive send-off that we've just seen for Bush the Elder. Though Carter undoubtedly lacks for nothing, he didn't use his post-presidency to make himself wealthy or even to try to continue to exercise power, conventionally understood. His faith may seem incomprehensible to folks who are not Christian or even not his kind of Christian. But he sure seems to have gotten something admirable out the moral and ethical structure within which he has rooted his life.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Rant: there's no secret sauce hidden in big data

Much of the media, including Sue Halpern at the New Yorker, think the revelation that GOP operative Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with a Russian agent is the long sought smoking gun -- because, well, having targeting data gave the Russians' surreptitious online interventions some magical power. Halpern reports:

Not long after the election, in an interview with “Frontline,” [proud Trump pollster Tony] Fabrizio offered a glimpse of how this data was gathered and how crucial it was to Trump’s victory. “One of the groups that we created early on in the campaign from the polling was what I called Trump targets,” Fabrizio said. “These were voters who wanted to change direction, wanted a new direction, weren’t voting for Trump, weren’t hardcore Democrats, weren’t hardcore liberals, weren’t hardcore Hillary supporters.” Knowing whom to target, where they were, and which issues resonated with them gave Trump’s digital team crucial information for its advertisements and social-media messaging. “We would report out to the senior team what markets those voters were concentrated in,” Fabrizio told “Frontline.”

Come on, that's just classic polling vendor flimflam, claiming that their piece of the work was THE essential element that won the victory. It would have been professional malpractice if Fabrizio's firm, Fabrizio, Lee & Associates, had failed to provide targeting information to the Trump organization; that's what pollsters are hired for. Yet it wasn't rocket science to come up with a profile of a plausible, perhaps persuadable, Trump voter. It's far more likely that the pollsters confirmed the intuitions of the campaign than that they came up with the secret sauce that won the election for their candidate (and the Russians' candidate).

I've worked in a lot of elections. I've worked with big data and done some targeting. I understand that elections are won with good targeting, working to influence the appropriate voters whether by persuasion or by increasing turnout among supporters who might not vote. It's always important not to encourage or sometimes to discourage the other sides' voters. But deep marketing knowledge, which is what social media can provide, is no more valuable, and perhaps less valuable, in that project than more obvious data: location, population demographics, and voting histories.

At the Washington Post, Phillip Bump has analyzed the known Russian activity on Facebook from 2015 through 2017, charted those interventions, and concluded there was no magical formula.

After all, the common understanding is that Russia’s interference efforts included sophisticated targeting of specific voting groups on Facebook, which could have made the difference in states that Trump narrowly won on his way to an electoral-vote victory.

That understanding about Russia’s sophisticated targeting, though, is not supported by the evidence — if it’s not flat-out wrong.

He shows that Russian disinformation largely went into interventions that were nationwide rather than directed at battleground states -- and that much of what has been uncovered occurred after November 2017. Bump's reporting corrects attractive myths.
We have plenty enough confirmed facts to show that Russia sought to elect Donald Trump and defeat Hillary Clinton. We also have plenty to prove that lots of people around Trump and probably Trump himself knew Russia was at work on their behalf. Why else have so many in the Trump camp lied about their contacts?

The lawyers tell us that we can't say the Trump campaign committed "treason" for having conspired with a hostile foreign power. Okay, it wasn't "treason," because the Founding Fathers knew that those in power would abuse any wide definition of that crime. But we're not wrong to see in Trump and Russia playing footsie a monstrous betrayal of the country.

But what all this does not prove or even suggest is that Russia's use of Manafort's polling data put Trump over the top. Not even hacking Democratic Party polling models did that. Trump and his Russian buddies worked to inflame and inflate our differences, to raise up racial hate and religious bigotry, to nurture cynicism and despair. But that's on us. There's no magic secret technological alternative to the long hard work of healing the violence within our society.

Friday cat blogging

The boy likes to help the knitter.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

What is truth in Trump's season of lies?

Erudite Partner's latest is online; she writes about the toll taken by Living in a Country Where Credibility Is Ancient History. She warns:

[the] popular belief that nobody really does or can know anything is the perfect soil for an authoritarian leader to take root.

Or so it seems until people find the garbage piling up in a government shutdown over a wall they didn't ask for or without power when a warming-enhanced hurricane blows away their electric power supply.

Truth may be hard to grasp and hard to confront. But reality makes a habit of biting back.

Go read Erudite Partner on the implications for democratic (small "d") organizing and popular mobilization.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Let's give peace a chance

This won't receive much attention what with Trump's government shutdown and his bleating about a fictional border crisis that requires a fantasy wall -- but Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group and Jon Finer of the Council on Foreign Relations offer some thoughtful advice to people concerned for peace who are revolted by the Preznit. It comes down to a simple thought: just because he's an impulsive, ignorant hate merchant, his instincts about ending endless wars are not crazy, merely ineptly executed (if indeed they come to be executed).

There is no shortage of policies and decisions made by President Trump worth criticizing, but since the earliest days of his presidential campaign, he has expressed at least one belief that deserves to be encouraged, not denigrated: the desire to disentangle the United States from costly overseas conflicts...

So much is objectionable about the Trump era that it is hard for critics to know which targets to strike. But principled opposition requires that progressive opponents of President Trump not distort their beliefs for quick rhetorical wins. Whatever administration eventually follows will have many messes to clean up and will need to distinguish those that truly matter.

Inevitably, the United States will face threats that will require the use of military force. But we ought to continually question our enduring involvement in faraway conflicts, particularly when they come at a terrible cost to the United States and local populations as in Afghanistan and Iraq; make us complicit in abuses as in Yemen; entangle us with unsavory partners as occurred with some elements of the Syrian opposition; or exacerbate anti-American sentiment as our broader counterterrorism campaign often did.

Troop withdrawals can be messy and costly even in the best of circumstances. But that is not a reason to drift into forever wars while searching for the perfect exit. It is a reason to be disciplined about objectives and judicious about intervening in the first place....

... So much is objectionable about the Trump era that it is hard for critics to know which targets to strike. But principled opposition requires that progressive opponents of President Trump not distort their beliefs for quick rhetorical wins. ...

It's worth reading it all.

Once again, a humane political stance demands that we learn to walk and chew gum at the same time: No Ban, No Wall, No Forever Wars.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

A city ecosystem

Construction sites and humans provide fodder for rats. Hawks hunt the rats. These days we keep our cats indoors and our dogs suspect they are overmatched.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Dems can press Trump on shutdown

I politely messaged mine (Feinstein and Harris).

Isn't it time for Democratic Senators to refuse to vote on ANYTHING until the Majority Leader McConnell puts bills passed by House to reopen the government up for a vote? If the President wants to veto them, so be it. But you can make him do it if you show some backbone.

Did you?

Found while clearing out old papers ...

She is lovely, isn't she? And after 50 years, the USofA still finds her as problematic as this old magazine does. Apparently LOOK didn't think of asking her to speak for herself ...

Sunday, January 06, 2019

An Epiphany reflection: 1979 and today

Fritz Eichenberg, printmaker extraordinaire for The Catholic Worker newspaper, created this image of foreign potentates bringing gifts of food to the Child who heralds new life for U.N.'s International Year of the Child. That year the refugee crisis struggling for the world's attention and compassion was that of the Vietnamese boat people, 54,000 of whom fled their war devastated country on leaky small boats in just the month of June. Wealthy countries eventually agreed to an Orderly Departure Program enabling refugees to migrate legally to the United States, France, Australia, and Canada.

That was then. And now, according to the International Refuge Committee:
More people have been forced to flee their homes by conflict and crisis than at any time since World War II.
Millions have fled Syria; many more would escape Yemen and war torn countries in the horn of Africa if they could; desertification, warming, and conflict drive people to move in the Sahel; and Central Americans flee their failing states. Today too many refugee children are beyond the help of any visitors.
The body of Syrian refugee 3 year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Greek beach in 2015. As of last June, 34,361 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in the last 20 years.
I know no easy answers, but I will refuse to look away.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Government rebuked over no fly list lawsuit

Rahinah Ibrahim, then a Stanford grad student, now a professor of architecture in her native Malaysia, was placed on a no fly/terrorist watch list in 2004. She was prevented from returning to her studies or even visiting the U.S. Her U.S. citizen daughter was also caught up in the ban. Federal lawyers fought tooth and nail against her lawsuit to challenge her designation.

Until 2014. At that point, an FBI agent told a judge in closed testimony that Ibrahim's exclusion was just a mistake. TechDirt shared some of the heavily redacted transcript:

Agent Kelley misunderstood the directions on the form and erroneously nominated Dr. Ibrahim to the TSA's no-fly list [redacted]. He did not intend to do so. This was a mistake, he admitted at trial. He intended to nominate her to the [very long redaction]. He checked the wrong boxes, filling out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions on the form. He made this mistake even though the form stated, "It is recommended the subject NOT be entered into the following selected terrorist screening databases."


Though the government gave up its defense of its no fly list mistake, Ibrahim remained excluded from the U.S. (possibly because of unproved allegations about her husband) and her attorneys were only partially compensated for the $3.6 million they'd spent preparing this complicated international case. Last Wednesday an appeals court said the government should be ordered to pay up.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in an 8-3 ruling, found that federal lawyers engaged in “scorched earth litigation” for nearly a decade against the former Stanford University graduate student, even though they knew she posed no threat.

“Once the government discovers that its litigation position is baseless, it may not continue to defend it,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, a Clinton appointee, wrote for the majority.

Let's hope this brings us near the completion of this particular panicked government response to the 9/11 terrorists attacks. In the early '00s both politicians and federal spooks were scared stupid that additional horrors might be immanent and defended themselves from responsibility by trampling over vulnerable individuals. I wonder if federal judges confronted with an outright racist president, his thuggish Heimat Security Department, and a neo-Confederate Attorney General (now cast aside), are more alert to abuses that they tolerated for a decade under weak "national security" claims? Perhaps.
Full disclosure: Erudite Partner and I were told at the San Francisco airport that we were on the no fly list in 2002. Through the ACLU, we sought disclosure about this secret list in a federal case that dragged on through 2006.

Photo via Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM)

Saturday scenery: a San Francisco tour de force

If you live in this city, you may have noticed this beautiful trompe-l'œil paint job on what is really a quite conventional house. I assume that if you decorate your house this way, you expect people to do what I did when passing it while Walking San Francisco: take lots of pictures.

Click on any of the images for a larger view.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Friday cat blogging

Morty occupies one of his favorite spots. Sometimes he'll manage to strike a key or two and really screw things up. But mostly he simply sits, awaiting attention.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

No complacency here

IndivisibleSF rallied energetically outside newly re-installed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's local office today.

Apparently there are plenty of activists who have no intention of allowing themselves to be reduced to political spectators now that the midterm elections are over.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit I'd never been to an Indivisible rally before. My active politics has taken place in other settings. I enjoyed this; the folks in attendance were a lot like many volunteers on the Reno campaign, lots of older people, probably retired, who could get off at midday on a Thursday.

The content was fascinating, consisting of a series of speakers offering a sort of basic civics course. They explained how Congressional procedure works and fails to work, gave a short history of immigration panics going back to President John Adams, added some Constitutional basics (too abstract for my taste), and finished with an explication of HR 1, congressional Dems' voting protection reforms put forward in the new Congress.

This sort of thing is hard to do while yelling into a mic on a street corner; IndivisibleSF speakers achieved it audibly and accessibly. The recent campaign showed me that civics education is something we need at every level. On that campaign, it proved helpful to start by explaining what a new Senator and new Governor might be able to do. Even informed citizens don't have that information foremost in their minds.

This crowd was on the immediate impeachment track. I think they'll be tolerant if they see Dems in Congress doing the work of building a case from among Trump's manifold crimes against our system and the people. But they'll howl if they are convinced their newly elected representatives are dragging their feet.

I'm a lousy chanter, but Indivisible has worthy slogans. I liked this one:


This rally embodied the spirit we'll need for years of #resistance. And for an arduous project of democratic reconstruction once we win.

Good news for signature collectors; perhaps not so good for democracy

We all voted in November and a good thing too. Despite conventional wisdom that this is a moderate conservative country, when more of us vote, progressive measures and everyday people win.

In particular, we all voted in California, mostly for better Congesscritters and to make a statement. But as part of that package, some 12.4 million of us voted in the Governor's race between Gov. Gavin and some ho-hum GOPer. That'a a lot. In 2014 only 7.3 million of us voted in Gov. Jerry running against Some Dude.

The number of votes in the Governor's race sets how many signatures are required to put something on the state ballot. Those people who bother you with petitions need to collect 5 percent of the most recent turnout for Governor for an initiative and 8 percent for a state constitutional amendment. From 2014

it took 365,879 signatures to qualify an initiative and 585,407 for an amendment. ...

... [high turnout in 2018] jumped the initiative threshold to 623,212 signatures and 997,139 for amendments.

SF Chronicle

Almost all signature collection is accomplished by small semi-professional armies of folks who make their living at it. Signature gatherers are paid some $1.50 to $5 for each name they collect, depending on how close they are to the measure's deadline and what sponsors will bear. It's a tough job, but good workers can make a living. Sure -- they are a pain when you try to rush by them. But I try to be polite. I've done some collection on a volunteer basis for measures trying to save money. There's no need to be mean to the pest with the clipboard.

Who pays to put initiatives on our ballot? The rule of thumb recently was that it cost at least 1 million dollars. I imagine the new cost will escalate towards 2 million. Clearly this won't get done unless some rich donors want us to vote on something. Maybe we'll see a few less obscure measures, but we do also have more than our share of newly minted millionaires with political (and often self-serving) ideas.

California's proliferating ballot measures have long proved a mixed blessing for progressives ideas. Once in a while we can win something, but we also have to fight repeated defensive actions against often deceptive conservative attempts to get the voters to enshrine prejudices and tax breaks that legislatures won't pass.

Ah democracy ... colored and co-opted by money ... but still staggering forward.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

New year, new laws revealing police abuses

It's the season for catalogues of new laws taking effect. (Here's a good one.) The California legislature sure passed a lot of items last year -- and outgoing Gov. Jerry signed them too.

The one that most grabs my attention is that, finally, California police departments will no longer be allowed to hide the discipline records of their officers from public view.

The new law opens up interview transcripts, evidence and full investigatory reports to the public, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike.

... Lara Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, said the measure could expose officer misconduct that was long withheld from defendants and could lead to numerous convictions being dismissed.

“We are going to see a lot of skeletons falling out of the closets dating back years, if not decades. That means people who were convicted unjustly and unfairly will finally get a chance to be heard,” Bazelon said.


In addition to requiring such records be opened, on July 1 another transparency law requires release of police body camera footage of officer-involved shootings and use of force within 45 days of an incident.

Forty years ago, powerful California police unions won the prohibitions on transparency that are being swept away this year. For decades, police political endorsements and police union cash ruled in Sacramento and most localities.

No more. All across the country, Black Lives Matter called out unpunished police killings. In San Francisco, police murders of Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, Luis Gongora Pat and Mario Woods sparked resistance to police impunity. In the recent San Francisco mayoral election, none of the major candidates were open to the police union endorsement; the powerful Police Officers Association had become toxic.

Emotionally, these new laws don't feel like much: what's a new statute weighed against lives snuffed out? No cops have suffered legal consequences for these shootings. It's still the law that fear is a good enough excuse for a police officer to start firing. And of course transparency is not self-enforcing; it's going to require vigilance to ensure that police authorities really do release records and videos. Where they can, police departments shredded some records before the transparency law took hold.

But these new laws are concrete improvements won by people who have struggled diligently against unchecked police power. So long as money and race determine who matters in society and on the streets, that struggle won't end. But let's celebrate incremental victories.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019