Thursday, October 31, 2019

Black votes matter more and more

This guy loves his data. I find his enthusiasm contagious.

Yet we have to remember that political power is about so much more than presidential contests every four years. People getting together and learning in their bones that a combination of agitation and organized participation (all that politics stuff) is what dredges out wins for communities.

Jenna Johnson offers a smart profile of the work that Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) are doing on the ground in Milwaukee. They are focused in Black neighborhoods where turnout was down in 2016. A Republican state government had put a lot of obstacles in the way of poor, Black, and brown urban citizens. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here's the key:

Increasing voter turnout requires helping people believe that their votes will make a difference and that it does matter who gets elected.

When everybody votes, people-oriented policies become more possible -- locally and nationally -- and hope wins.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A gut check on ageism

Thinking about the Democratic primary, it's hard not to find myself making unwanted generalizations about age and aging. I don't want to thoughtlessly repeat personal and social biases against old people and about our place in this big, churning, multifaceted thing that is the United States. Yet the current contest pushes to front of mind three aspects of the meaning of age that I think worth differentiating and considering.
  • Most obviously, there's what advancing age does to the personal capacities of individuals. This is hard to talk about intelligently because each person ages -- loses health, energy, and sharpness -- at a different rate. It's ageist nonsense to assume all old people are the same or suffer stereotypical disabilities. For some, money helps slow ageing. But we do all age at some point.
  • Then there is the cultural and social fact that lived collective experience creates age cohorts whose social reference points are different. What does that mean? Well, those of us who came up during the Vietnam war had very different experiences of the meaning of citizenship from the World War II generation before us or the Evil Empire or 9/11 or Endless Wars generations after us. And that's just the environment "out there." Our cultures, our media, our economic trajectories, even our intimate relationships are all partially distinct in different age groups -- this is just true and it means we often interpret the world around us differently.
  • Additionally, we more and more live in an unacknowledged gerontocracy. It's not just that we have a 73 year old president seeking another term and three leading Democrats who are also in their 70s. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, who is the most effective Democratic political leader, is 79, though we rarely comment on this. Senator Mitch McConnell, who is as potent on the other side, is 77. This feels unhealthy. The median age of the country -- half are younger, half older -- is 38. Energetic, inventive societies have historically been much younger, as have been many (most?) dynamic political leaders. Much of world may be better off with a less bumptious, expansive U.S.A. -- but there are losses, not least among our own younger citizens who the old folks are blocking from taking up the challenges of our time.
These reflections were triggered by a superb profile by Olivia Nuzzi of former Vice President Joe Biden. She deals as gracefully as I've read anywhere with the age issues this primary and its lusterless leader present.

There’s the basic fact of his oldness and the concerns, explicit or implicit, about his ability to stay agile and alive for four more years. This was true of Biden, who is 76, even more than it was true of Bernie Sanders, who is the oldest candidate at 78, up until Sanders had a heart attack while campaigning in Nevada earlier this month. (It’s not true at all of Elizabeth Warren, who is 70 but seems a decade younger. And it’s not exactly true of Trump, who is 73 and really just seems crazy, not old.)

... The activist wing of the party is a lost cause to Biden just as he’s a lost cause to them. When they show up at his speeches to confront him or protest in support of the Green New Deal, something I’ve witnessed twice in New Hampshire, he attempts to formulate what he surely believes is a respectful response, and yet they don’t think it’s enough, because nothing that he says could be enough because of who he is. Can you blame anyone under the age of 30 for their cynicism, for their hostility?

... Age isn’t just a weakness for Biden. There are a lot of old people in America, and many of them really like the former vice-president. They don’t see a doddering, out-of-touch, exhausted man, as the 20- and 30- and 40-somethings who cover the campaign and dominate social media do. They look at him and see, well, a statesman from the popular recent administration who has moved to the left as the party has, if not quite as much as his younger rivals. These are the people that really vote in elections, and, to them, that all seems pretty good. ...

I am no Biden fan (I'm more a Warren fan). But I'm not a fan of ageism either. Maybe one of the accidental benefits of this strange season is that many of us will be forced to ponder age in a more nuanced fashion. So be it.
One other line from this profile that I can't resist raising up:

Inside the campaign, the Biden brain trust seems to exist more to comfort the candidate than to compel him ...

I've been in a lot of such meetings -- this is the signature of a losing campaign. When you admire your candidate but can't push the race over the top, it can become almost unavoidable to devolve into soothing the person who is going down to humiliating defeat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Talk about burying the lede: success in life depends on where people settle

Why do journalists do this sort of thing? Emily Badger at The Upshot reports on a working paper from a team of economic historians at Princeton, Stanford and the University of California, Davis. They found that in every generation since the 1880s, children of poor immigrants (actually they say "sons") have been more economically successful than children of "similarly poor fathers born in the United States." That is, once immigrant families become established, many prove adept at getting ahead.

The adult children of poor Mexican and Dominican immigrants in the country legally today achieve about the same relative economic success as children of poor immigrants from Finland or Scotland did a century ago. All of them, in their respective eras, have fared better than the children of poor native-born Americans. If the American dream is to give the next generation a better life, it appears that poor immigrants have more reliably achieved that dream than native-born Americans have.

It would seem to me that the phenomenon that needs more study here is what's keeping poor native-born families from doing as well -- but that's not what this study is about.

The researchers examined whether their findings merely showed that first generation immigrants, learning a new language and culture, simply could not make much money, so the successes of their children stood out in contrast to the fathers. And they looked at whether second generation immigrants looked successful because the U.S.-born poor cohort to which they were compared included a lot of African Americans who suffer from the historic wealth gap arising from their family history of being enslaved and subjected to discrimination. But the apparent advantages of immigrant children still appear in the data when Black peers are left out of the comparisons.

So what's going on? Way at the end of Badger's article she explains: new immigrants tend to settle or move to places in the United States where the economy is strong and opportunity is greater.

So what else might explain this pattern that is so consistent through history and across diverse immigrant groups? The researchers point to one other factor that we know influences a child’s economic mobility — where he lives. Both documented and undocumented immigrants have tended to cluster in common international ports of entry, in major cities, in communities where jobs are easier to find. The places they have moved to have frequently been the same places that have offered better economic mobility to everyone.

In their data, when the researchers compare the sons of immigrants with the sons of native-born fathers who grew up in the same county, the difference in their mobility rates largely vanishes. This suggests that what separates these immigrant and native-born groups isn’t necessarily some quality inherent in their culture or work ethic, but rather their decisions on where to live.

Looked at another way, immigrants embody the upward mobility more native-born families in poverty might experience if they were more able or willing to move. In this way, immigrants have one significant advantage U.S.-born families don’t. They’re not bound by generations of family ties or by the feeling they can’t leave a particular place, whether things are going well there or not.

My emphasis. Immigrants do what residents of this rich land have always done if they could. They go where the getting is good; they "head out for the territory." Movement of people for a better life has always been how this country worked.

Like a lot of privileged white people, I can say I did this myself, trading in declining Buffalo, New York roots for mid-20th century California.

What needs sympathetic study is why some people can't, don't, or won't participate in the great national ebb and flow for better lives.

Meet a second generation immigrant who has found her niche -- and should be able to keep it, despite Trump's ugly attempt to expel her.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Where do names for wildfires come from?

Watching California burn from afar, I realized I didn't know the answer. Dr. Google came to my rescue:

Unlike hurricanes, wildfires are not named from a predetermined list. They are named by officials, who choose names based on “a geographical location, local landmark, street, lake, mountain, peak, etc.,” the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

Why name a fire? Officials said that quickly coming up with a label provides firefighters another way to locate the blaze and allows officials to track and prioritize incidents by name. ...

In most cases, the dispatch center sending the initial resources to a wildfire gets to name it, but sometimes that task falls to the first fire personnel on the scene, officials said. What they name it — well, that is up to them.

“You could have a fire by a landfill — and they might call it the Dump Fire,” Heather Williams, a Cal Fire spokeswoman said. “Sometimes the names come through and it’s like, ‘Really guys?’”

... Ms. Williams conceded that the more remote the area, the harder it is to come up with a good name. Fires sparked by lightning, in particular, can pose a challenge, she said. In those cases, officials may simply use the coordinates on a map grid to name a fire something like “R-15.” Most of those peculiar names, though, go under the radar.

“Twenty to 30 fires start on a given day,” Ms. Williams said, speaking about Cal Fire’s jurisdiction. “Only a handful reach the point that the public knows about them.”

Matt Stevens, New York Times

That's clear enough. But the way the media sometimes seize on the names and then repeat them endlessly without very precise geographical explanation may confuse as much as it helps.

For example, the San Francisco Chronicle touts its California Fire Tracker as the go-to source on wildfires. But getting information out of it requires already knowing the name and general area of the fire you want to track. They could do better.

Racism shapes how life itself is allocated among us

Rep. Elijah Cummings' wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, eulogized her deceased husband with a declaration that seems to crystallize the struggle we all face in this ugly moment:

He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, explains how Cummings death at 68 years made the Congressman another example of how white privilege plays out among us.

... there may be no more consequential white privilege than life itself. The privilege of being on the living end of racism. ...

In Philadelphia, black men live 69 years, five years less than the average of other men, and 10 years less than the average of other women. In Kansas City, a black man can expect his life to end 20 years earlier than a white woman living 10 minutes away. In Chicago, a white resident in Streeterville can expect to live until 90, while a black resident nine miles south in Englewood can expect to live until 60. The 30-year gap in Chicago is the largest in the nation, followed by 27.5 years in Washington, D.C.; 27.4 in New York City; and 25.8 years in New Orleans and Buffalo, New York. In all, 56 of America’s 500 largest cities have sizable life-expectancy gaps between segregated neighborhoods, a recent study found.

Read it all for a nuanced exploration of Black male mortality by someone who has been forced to face his own impaired life expectancy.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Fog of war in the time of the Tweeter

Ever wondered what people serving in the U.S. armed forces make of the incoherent leadership they are getting from the President? Here's military reporter Jeff Schogol trying to make sense of what he gets from the Pentagon.

In past wars, it was possible to mark the U.S. military's positions with flags on paper maps. But we live in the age of Twitter, and since the commander in chief seems to be visited by the Good Idea Fairy every 15 minutes, there is no way to have an updated map of where U.S. forces are.

With regards to Syria, the U.S. military isn't leaving. It's repositioning forces because the mission has changed from fighting ISIS to protecting the oil. (This also may make the first time a sitting president has not tried to camouflage sending troops to protect oil by claiming the United States was liberating oppressed people.)

... Every time Trump tweets about the military, the Defense Department has to pretend the president's latest missive is all part of a wider plan that has been properly thought out ahead of time.

By giving as little information as possible, the Pentagon hopes to avoid revealing that it is actually reacting on the fly to try to make Trump's latest great idea not end in a total disaster.

Schogol does point out that the Obama administration was also often not very transparent about troop deployments. The Pentagon is used to these games and resents them.
Now Trump is crowing that U.S. forces have killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. The guy will certainly not be missed if the report is accurate. That's a real success. But given the number of times that the U.S. has reported the demise of various al Qaeda and ISIS leaders only to have them turn up the next week, a more disciplined leader than Tweeter in Chief might have waited for all the evidence.

A Defense Department official said before the president’s announcement that there was a strong belief — “near certainty” — that Mr. al-Baghdadi was dead, but that a full DNA analysis was not complete. The official said that with any other president, the Pentagon would wait for absolute certainty before announcing victory. But Mr. Trump was impatient to get the news out ...

Democrats probably don't have to worry that killing Baghdadi will give Trump a big political boost outside his base. Killing Osama bin Laden never did much for Obama's standing either.

People here get worried by the school shooting next door or the white supremacist murdering our neighbors. Trump isn't doing anything about that while Democratic candidates struggle to figure out how to reduce the armaments in private hands in this country.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Saturday scenery: the woods speak

The land here on Martha's Vineyard island has been farmed and groomed and cultivated for hundreds of years, first by the indigenous Wampanoags, then by European seafarers and settlers and their accompanying laborers of color -- African, Cape Verdian, Latinx. Today the permanent population knows well that the beauty of the land and surrounding ocean provides their livelihoods. Tourists come to play here. Some land is cultivated, but much has reverted to semi-wild meadows and forests. More than one third of the island, about 20,000 acres, is conserved in some way.

Because of the dense mix of intensive long-time use with preservation of the wild, the woodland trails where I wander frequently come with curious markers and interesting signage.
I suspect there's a good story behind that marker, but I have no idea what happened.

This plaque commemorating the extinct heath hen is a good quarter of a mile from any road. That wasn't far enough to preserve these birds from New England settlers who hunted this species of prairie chicken to extinction.

Because I have good maps, I know this points to what is known as an "ancient way," the Dr. Fisher Road, one of a maze of narrow paths that cut through otherwise roadless tracts. Access to them is legally protected, though landowners sometimes throw up private barriers.

I guess the fence works. I saw neither dogs nor other wandering livestock.

These signs are at most trail entrances this time of year. It's bow hunting season at present, a time when one can still run in the woods, with bright clothing. After Thanksgiving the shotgun hunters get their short season and I'll stay away for a bit. The island is home to entirely too many deer which serve as a vector for the ticks that carry Lyme disease. This hunting season is not enough to much reduce the overpopulation.

Whenever I am on the island, I like to pass by the plaque commemorating Rebecca, Woman of Africa, abducted from Guinea who was slave to one Colonel Bassett -- her great grandson became the island's only African American whaling ship captain.

I'm not alone in visiting Rebecca. This year someone is caring for this magical object at the site.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Friday cat blogging

Morty looks a little annoyed, doesn't he? Not too surprising. At the direction of his vet, we're trying to help him recover from the shock of his nine-day adventure in out-of-doors. He gets daily subcutaneous hydration (I've spared you a picture of the needle) and daily administrations of high vitamin cat food by mouth via a sort of huge syringe. Erudite Partner is becoming an adept amateur vet technician. In between feedings, he sleeps. And at night he snuggles up against us, brushes his whiskers against our faces, and generally is the same old Morty.

We can't discern whether we're running a cat hospital or a cat hospice. This animal's state has been known to turn on a dime before. What will be will be.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Off-year election: a testing time

There's an important election on November 5. If you don't live in Virginia, you might not have focused on this. Democrats have a chance, if they win a few more seats in the state legislature, to take a majority. That matters, because the maps the Republicans drew after the last census were thrown out by a federal court for constituting an illegal race-based gerrymander. If Dems win this year, they'll be in position to stop a repeat during reapportionment in 2021. (Yes, it just never stops.)

Sitting far away on an island in the ocean, there's not much I can to do help. But I took the chance to participate in one of the many expedients campaigns are developing to use the energy of far-flung supporters -- as much as participant research as anything else.

The Moms Rising Education Fund is working (without taking a partisan stance) to encourage infrequent voters to turn out in this election. They sent me five stamped postcards pre-addressed to five people thought unlikely to vote without a nudge. All I had to do was write short notes about the value of their vote and drop them in the mail. This wasn't demanding.

What does this sort of effort do in a campaign? I've written often about the gargantuan scale of volunteer effort necessary to make this kind of approach meaningful. (See this from the Obama campaign in 2008.) An awful lot of volunteer hours can yield a tiny number of votes -- though you want those votes. Contacting infrequent voters can increase their likelihood to vote, but research confirms that the effectiveness of contacts depends considerably on how close and personal that contact is. By far the best contact is the neighbor at the door, followed by a very well trained and competent canvasser, if possible from the same race or language group as the voter. Phone calls mostly are pretty ineffective, especially from remote paid canvassers. Direct mail, robocalls, and lawn signs probably do more to add to the profits of campaign vendors than to getting out the vote.

Sometimes novel methods can increase turnout. As long ago as 1994 in San Francisco, turnout phone calls in English had lost their usefulness. But language appropriate calls to voters most comfortable in Spanish and Cantonese seemed to go well and perhaps increase turnout. Anecdotal reports (and perhaps research I haven't seen) suggest text messages drove some turnout in 2018. I would expect that medium to lose its utility quickly if widely adopted. For a less skeptical view of texting, this paper leans on a concept the authors call "Noticeable Reminder Theory ." Trouble is, what if the random political text becomes just another bit of noise in an over-crowded information environment clamoring for attention? This has been the fate of most novel voter contact tactics.

Yet it remains the case that campaigns too often don't ever touch significant groups of voters -- often people of color or young people.
... Latino and Asian [naturalized citizens] are particularly potent additions to the electorate, with turnout rates that are often 5 to 8 percentage points higher than their natural-born counterparts, according to census estimates.

... Liking a party is one thing. Mobilizing to vote is another. Roughly three-fifths of foreign-born Asian American voters surveyed by APIAVote and AAPI Data said they were not contacted by the Democratic Party or the GOP before the 2018 election.
You have to show you know people are there and part of the community if you want them to turn out.

So what do I think of the MomsRising postcards? Interesting. I hope this is being treated as a real campaign method which means it has two prongs: targeting and testing. Did we send our postcards to the right voters, the voters whose participation could have an impact on the election results? That's a targeting data question. More to the point, are these voters the subject of lots of other, more direct, forms of contact -- is someone knocking on their doors, leaving notes when they aren't home, calling ...? I sure hope so. Whatever tiny nudge a postcard gives should be supplemented vigorously.

Moreover, I wonder how MomsRising is testing this effort. Did they try different postcards with different images and messages? Will they go back and look at how many of their targets who received which persuasion pieces ended up voting? 2019 is a good time for trial runs for 2020. Were they able to track how many of the volunteers who offered to do this actually mailed the cards? I sure hope so -- and I sure hope they keeping track of who worked and who didn't.

We're all gearing up for the life and death struggle in 2020 ...

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

I voted - have you?

This was certainly the simplest San Francisco ballot I've confronted for many a year.

I voted happily and proudly for Chesa Boudin for District Attorney. He's the only one of the lot who would fundamentally shake up the office -- in a good way. When the old guy couldn't run for re-election because he'd pissed off everyone, whether left, right or center, it's time for big change. As a former Public Defender, Boudin will deliver a very different slant on law enforcement and prosecution. About time.

None of the other offices are really contested unless you live in Supervisor District 5 -- where you can support Dean Preston for a City Hall more attuned to tenants and the bottom 80 percent of us.

Even the ballot propositions are kind of humdrum, by the standards of a city which voted on whether to name its sewage plant for George W. Bush. A quick list of what I did.
Prop. A - Affordable Housing Bonds. Gosh, yes!
Prop B - Name of a city department. Guess this is okay.
Prop. C - No, No, No. Juul's attempt to save its addiction machine. Even these drug dealers who put it on the ballot have given up on this one, but they'll probably be back at the state level.
Prop. D - Traffic tax. Sure, charge Uber and Lyft a little something to aid Muni.
Prop. E - Affordable Housing for Teachers. Gosh, yes!
Prop. F - Campaign contribution disclosures. Yes.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Let's conserve the old -- and imagine the new

William Moomaw is an environmental scientist who helped found the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School and served as lead author on five reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This guy has been in the thick climate science. And he thinks we're making a mistake if we concentrate entirely on planting new trees; it's the middle-aged and old trees that perform the most carbon capture. We've allowed the economic benefits of managing forests to harvest young trees for burning pellets to blind us to the superior carbon carrying capacity of multi-age forests.

... in multi-aged forests around the world of all types [studies found] half of the carbon is stored in the largest one-percent diameter trees. So I began thinking about this, and I realized that the most effective thing that we can do is to allow trees that are already planted, that are already growing, to continue growing to reach their ecological potential, to store carbon, and develop a forest that has its full complement of environmental services.

... in order to meet our climate goals, we have to have greater sequestration by natural systems now. So that entails protecting the carbon stocks that we already have in forests, or at least a large enough fraction of them that they matter.


Meanwhile, there's no reason we can't find new places to plant young trees, if we'll just use our imaginations. And Italian architectural firm has built a forest in urban Milan.
I'd call this magical.

H/t Time Goes By.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Some people think it really exists

Over the weekend, Trump flunky (and pretend White House Chief of Staff) Mick Mulvaney went on TV to defend his embattled boss. He explained:

... the president had mentioned for me time to time about the DNC server. He had mentioned the DNC server to other people publicly.

Fox New transcript

What in the world is he talking about?

Mulvaney seems to be referring a piece of fully refuted claptrap that has become deeply embedded in Trump's mind and hence in the imaginations of his adherents. Because his personal pathology requires him to believe he won a magnificent electoral victory in 2016, he can't accept that Russian hacking (and divisive online activity) gave him a boost. So somebody else must be to blame when the FBI, counter-intelligence investigators, Robert Mueller, and reputable journalists at fact-based outlets, all conclude that Russian operatives hacked and weaponized the communications of the Democratic National Committee. He has settled on a piece of nonsense connected to Ukraine.

In an April 2017 interview with The Associated Press, President Trump suddenly began talking about the hack of the Democratic National Committee a year earlier, complaining that the F.B.I. had not physically examined the compromised server.

“They brought in another company that I hear is Ukrainian-based,” the president said.

“CrowdStrike?” the surprised reporter asked, referring to the California cybersecurity company that investigated how Russian government hackers had stolen and leaked Democratic emails, disrupting Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

“That’s what I heard,” Mr. Trump resumed. “I heard it’s owned by a very rich Ukrainian; that’s what I heard.”

Scott Shane, New York Times

This is rooted in a technological illiteracy that Trump shares with too much of his generation and the flock of incompetent second raters in ugly ties that he surrounds himself with. He can't imagine that nonexistent data which he wants to find was never located in a physical box hidden somewhere. It must be hidden in Ukraine (probably by some oligarch who will turn out to be a buddy of Joe Biden.)

In real life the DNC used cloud servers for its data and the Crowdstrike company gave the FBI an electronic copy of the hacked server -- the only form in which it ever really existed.

Hence much follows: other tech illiterates like Rudy Giuliani and Bill Barr go chasing around after phantoms their boss believes in. Maybe they do too? And Trump remains convinced he's onto a deep state conspiracy against his magnificence. He's a convincing salesman for the gullible on right wing media. And the rest of us don't even get the concept adequately to refute it.

This sort of thing will continue as long as so much of our lives depend on technical communication processes which we find more magical than reliable or simply normal. In our science-based civilization, we have normalized the counter-intuitive reality that the earth is round -- and we fly around it. Might we someday generally have similar confidence in our cyber environment? I don't feel confident that will be soon; we live in a season congenial to charlatans and fable generators.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Ibram X. Kendi: Racial inequities are not inevitable

Ibram X. Kendi won a National Book Award in 2016 for his Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. By profession a historian, he is the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.

In his new book, How to be an anti-racist, Kendi explores what it means to live the implications of the intellectual and material forces he has so deeply explored in the previous book. And, a little against his druthers (as I've heard him explain in podcast interviews) he finds his lessons in the life he knows best -- his own. The result is approachable, brave, and sometimes poignant. Since all of us are sometimes racist in Kendi's definitions, he offers multiple opportunities to readers to reflect on our own lives through sharing his personal evolution.

So what are the definitions Kendi offers?

Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.

... Racial inequity is when two or more racial groups are not standing on an approximately equal footing. Here's an example of racial inequity: 71 percent of White families lived in owner-occupied homes in 2014, compared to 45 percent of Latinx families and 41 percent of Black families. Racial equity is when two or more racial groups are standing on a relatively equal footing.

... A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups. An antiracist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups. By policy, I mean written and unwritten laws, rules, procedures, processes, regulations, and guidelines that govern people.

There is no such thing as a non racist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or racial equity between racial groups.

And there's more that adds the realm of the ideas we carry about within us:

So what is a racist idea? A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way. Racist ideas argue that the inferiorities and superiorities of racial groups explain racial inequities in society.

... An antiracist idea is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in their apparent differences -- there is nothing right or wrong with any group. Antiracist ideas argue that racist policies are the cause of racial inequities. ...

Understanding the differences between racist policies and antiracist policies, between racist ideas and antiracist ideas, allows us to return to fundamental definitions. Racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas. Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.

Out of this framework, Kendi tells his own life story -- and his experience of learning that more and more aspects of experience require him to discern what antiracist understanding and action mean.

He begins with the story from high school of winning a year 2000 MLK Day speech competition by wowing the judges with the then-popular frame that Black youth were dumb, academically lazy, sports obsessed, no-goodniks -- and not having a clue that he'd just promoted a viciously racist set of attitudes that would land much of a generation of Black boys in prison. Today he calls such pronouncements both "racist" and thus bulwarks of racial inequity.

Later on, he recalls dissing immigrant schoolmates, including Black ones from the Caribbean and Africa, with racist ethnic memes. At historically Black Florida A&M University where he went to college, he learned (and unlearned) about the racism embodied in colorism. The stolen Florida vote count for George W. Bush in December 2000 made the Nation of Islam's mythology of a White race of devils seem persuasive -- until antiracist Black history professors knocked him out of it with a more complex story. In graduate school, Black lesbian peers beat unexamined sexism and homophobia out of him, ensuring that his antiracism is rooted in affirmation of the full humanity of women and gay folk.

There were plenty of passages in How to be an antiracist that felt more addressed to Kendi's Black peers than to an old white woman. But there's an underlying theme that accords with everything I've learned over the years about antiracism: what matters is not White soul searching, but actual, material action for changes, policies, and initiatives that make Black lives more equitable. So central to the history of the United States is racism against Blacks, that making everyone's lives more equitable is the usual byproduct of antiracism. We don't get there by self-flagellation. We get there by working collectively and by organizing.

Kendi sums up:

We are surrounded by racial inequity, as visible as the law, as hidden as our private thoughts. The question for each of us is: What side of history will we stand on? A racist is someone who is supporting a racist policy by their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea. An antiracist is someone who is supporting an antiracist policy by their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. "Racist" and "antiracist" are like peelable name tags that are placed and replaced based on what someone is doing or not doing, supporting or expressing in each moment. They are not permanent tattoos.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Saturday scenery: the fall foliage display has come

... and largely blown away on Martha's Vineyard. Fortunately for us all, I took a lot of pictures the day before the storm.

The forests are mostly second- or third-growth oak as well as some beeches, so the predominant colors are yellow and brown.

Patches of red leaves really stick out.

That's true even at ground level.

What a gift to be able to run the trails amidst this bounty.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Excellent food for a cat

On Thursday I had a new experience: I went shopping for baby food. Since Morty's escapade in the wilds, he has been off his feed, sometimes going a couple of days without discernibly eating. His vet and our friends suggested we try feeding him pureed turkey baby food. Some cats think it is yummy.

So there I am in a super market and I can't find the stuff. I'm looking for rows of little glass jars. Isn't that what baby food looks like?

Stupid me. Laura Reiley explains that my expectations are absurdly out of date.

There’s been a boom in unhealthy foods and beverages for children six months to 3 years old, packaged for convenience and often promising to make children stronger and smarter.

Dietary supplements said to boost the immune system. Squeezy pouches boasting 3 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. Oven-baked stone-ground wheat “wafflez,” superfood puffs and a baffling array of toddler milks purported to aid brain and eye development.

... “Americans are snackers,” said Mary Story, a professor of global health, family medicine and community health at Duke’s Global Health Institute. “And the food industry is always looking for novel ways to market their products and increase demand.”

... For a scientific report for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, her team found that 29 percent of toddlers’ calories were coming from snacks, most of which were salty or sweetened processed foods, not fruits and vegetables.

It's not hard to be suspicious about what this will do to these kids later in their lives.

Anyway, I didn't identify the bright colored plastic packets as baby food. They look like snacks -- and maybe nutritionally they are.

But I did find, way at the back of the shelf, out of sight, the last jar of the kind of baby food I was looking for. Morty will grudgingly lick up a bit of it; it passes the feline test.

New Yorkers know that Rudy Giuliani is a corrupt, self-seeking crook

Rudy's "business" in Ukraine seems to have included trading access to a corrupt U.S. president for profit. In addition to trying to extort campaign dirt, he was involved an effort to steer Ukrainian gas contracts to Republican bigwigs. And now federal prosecutors and counter-intelligence investigators are looking into security aspects of Rudy Giuliani's dealings in Ukraine. Amazing that Attorney General Bill Barr who seems to be a Trump sycophant hasn't been able to shut this probe down -- but so far, it continues.

But corruption is nothing new for this preening TV lawyer who was once a federal prosecutor and then New York's mayor. In fact, there are plenty of New York City firefighters and other first responders who believe that many of the deaths in the collapse of the Trade Towers on 9/11 should be laid to Giuliani's account -- because as mayor he was more interested in money and looking good than emergency preparedness.

This 2015 documentary from Brave New Films gave these critics a chance to tell their stories. It's free; it's only 18 minutes; it's a painful story of greed and betrayal of people trying to do their jobs. The bitterness left by Rudy's wake is deep.
Some snippets:

First responders
John Sferazo -- iron worker
"We're the kind of people that rush into an emergency while others flee. ... I've lost a great deal of my breathing capacity. ..."

Marianne Pizzitola -- FDNY - EMS Officers Union, Pension & Benefits coordinator
"The only times we saw him down there [Ground Zero] was for press conferences ... it really wasn't to help us. ... We haven't seen Mayor Giuliani help anybody."

Command center
Jim Riches - Deputy Chief, FDNY
"Why was Giuliani running around that day? Because he didn't have a command post, because he put it in the wrong place [the 23rd floor of Number Seven World Trade Center.] ... He abandoned ship; he was a coward that day."

[The city rented the location from the lease holder, Larry Silverstein, for 1.4 million dollars a year for 20 years. Silverstein returned Rudy's favor by holding a $100,000 fundraiser for the mayor on his yacht.]

Andy Ansbro -- New York City firefighter, former police officer

"It cost the lives of first responders that day because the command center was located at the World Trade Center. There were 60 firefighters killed in the Marriott; there was 121 killed in the North Tower ... if that command center had been operational, the death toll would probably have been cut in half. ... Before, during, and after there's not much you can find that Rudy did right except a really good television appearance."

[FWIW, the 9/11 Commission Report agreed with the assessment of these first responders.]

Motorola Radios carried by the firefighters

Jim Riches - Deputy Chief, FDNY
"Giuliani became mayor in 1994. He knew there was something wrong with those radios; they did not work for communication in the World Trade Center the 1993 bombing."

[In 2001, the Giuliani administration finally ordered new radios in 2001. They bought units that were never field tested from Motorola with a no-bid contract. Somehow the price jumped from 1.4 million to 14 million over a weekend.]

"... When new radios were put in service, they lasted one week."

[The new radios had to be recalled. Firefighters were reissued the old, malfunctioning radios. Cops evacuated the Towers because they could communicate. Firefighters, who never heard the order, remained in the Towers and died.]

For Rudy's misdeeds then, those harmed saw no accountability. Sound familiar?

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Country life

This morning we woke up to the realization that the massive rain and windstorm that hit the area overnight had knocked the power out. The E.P. was not thrilled, nor was I.

Around here, no electric power not only means no lights in a naturally dark house and no internet, it also means no water pumped from the well to the kitchen or the toilets and no heat. There's no cell service, so we felt lucky to have one remaining land line that remained live. We lit a fire in the wood stove and heated some water for instant coffee.

The house has a generator that is supposed to kick on when the power goes down. It didn't. We used the land line to call the generator company.

Incredibly, within an hour the owner of the generator company turned up. His mechanic was off-island.

This nice man checked the battery. The failure wasn't in the battery; it was the solenoid. He drove off, unable to promise when he'd have a replacement.

Later in the day, we drove about the island a bit doing errands and appreciating the quantity of downed trees. Electric crews were working away. The power came on 12 hours later.

Here's map of the storm; we're right in the middle there. High winds are still howling.
Regular blogging will resume on Friday.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Democratic tax plans

Ms. Warren was weaselly on what her intended health reform might do to middle class taxes in the debate last night. Not good. She should find her answer and own it. Trump will say she plans to kidnap voters' children and eat them regardless of what she says, so she needs to demonstrate clarity and resolve. (And it seems mightily unlikely that any of these people would actually be able to enact their health reform ideas, however much the people desperately wish health care improvements.)

Emmanuel Saez, the Berkeley economist and MacArthur genius, is advising Warren on her economic plans. Consequently this chart from his research offers a useful insight into candidates' competing tax ideas. Donald Trump and Joe Biden's plans follow the same trajectory up to the 96th income percentile; that mark is somewhere well over $200K annual earnings. Warren and Sanders' plans hit lower earners -- most everyone -- for somewhat less. But for the top four percent, Bernie's tax demands shoot up as do Warren's, but not so much. The curve of Biden's plan looks a lot like Trumps' tax structure, though not quite so oligarch friendly.

Tax policy seems super technical -- and it is. But the simple principle which should underlie it is pretty simple: government has the job of promoting the general welfare. Since that costs money, that money has to come from those who have it. Period.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Elizabeth Warren's time

The magazine cover dates from 2018, but as of today, it's factual. At least so says the George Washington University politics poll as reported by Newsweek.

Warren has pushed ahead of both Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in the newest poll released just ahead of Tuesday evening's CNN/The New York Times 2020 Democratic debate. Warren tops the Democratic candidate field with 28 percent of the vote while Sanders comes in second with 21 percent. Biden, who has maintained his status as Democratic front-runner since entering the race in the spring, has fallen to just 18 percent.

Warren's rise makes me happy; she strikes me as smart enough, and agile enough, and able to combine enough strategic vision with enough realism to actually do the job. Plus she's become a good candidate, able to project accessibility with a bit of warmth and a touch of charisma. This wasn't a given. I remember being in Massachusetts during her first Senate run and quizzing people who'd been to her house parties. They were doubtful. Good candidates win house parties. Today she wins selfies with thousands of people. (And if Warren doesn't prevail, I'll work to elect a turnip if that's who it takes to rid the country of Trump.)

What I like least about Warren is that she is a member of my generation. Democrats ought not to be nominating some old codger. We're the party that knows there is a future and that it will be different from today, for worse or better. It shouldn't be my cohort's time any longer. But here we are -- and Warren does feel different from the two old white guys.

I've thought a lot about this and come to believe that aging plays out differently in women politicians -- at least in Warren's generation. In addition to the reality that on average old women are healthier than old men, women pols used to start their careers in public life about a decade later than men -- because they were raising children as the primary or sole parent. So they don't hit their prime until much later. Heck, Nancy Pelosi is 79 -- she didn't get started in electoral politics (beyond fundraising) until she'd raised five children. And she's still pretty good at handling a toddler president. Warren also came to politics late -- or perhaps mature.

Gail Collins expressed similar thoughts today, including observing that Warren gets better at being a candidate as she has aged.

In my capacity as a person who’s been writing a book about older women, I have to say it’s interesting that of the three 70-something candidates running for the Democratic nomination, Warren is the only one for whom it doesn’t seem to be a major issue.

The obvious reason is that Warren is racing around like an overachieving bee. While Bernie is recovering from a heart attack and Biden is making appearances in which he reminds me of a very friendly 15-year-old golden retriever.

... I’ve always had a theory that when people age, barring health crises, they simply become more like whatever they were at 40. Warren sort of undercuts this — she’s much more personable, politically astute, with a stronger public presence than when she first emerged on the political scene. ...

It's almost time to turn on the debate.

There are all too many reasons to impeach Donald Trump

He's a multi-tasking criminal, after all.

Erudite Partner lays out an exhaustive (and exhausting) and lethal catalog in her latest essay. Trump "may yet do more harm than his Republican predecessor."

... we’re threatening to impeach a president, this time for a third-rate attempt to extort minor political gain from the government of a vulnerable country (without even the decency of a cover-up). But we’re ignoring Trump’s highest crime, worse even than the ones mentioned above.

He has promised to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, the 2015 international agreement that was meant to begin a serious international response to the climate crisis now heating the planet. Meanwhile, he’s created an administration that is working in every way imaginable to ensure that yet more greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. He is, in other words, a threat not just to the American people, or to the rule of law, but to the whole human species.

Read it all.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Nicaraguan communities building a sustainable future

So a well-run North American non-profit organization can assist Nicaraguans by funding improvements in water access and sanitation in remote communities. But what makes those gains stick? The key to sustainability is community ownership and management of the new resources.

This weekend we, El Porvenir board members, visited a new pumping station we had helped a community build.

The murals the community chose to decorate the facility tell a story of hope in the future:
Trees preserve water and the land.

And you don't cut them down.

Apollinaire Sosa is the operator of the facility; the job of ensuring that water flows is his.

He's the fellow who gets to turn the blue wrench.

Elizabeth Torres acts as the community treasurer: she makes sure that the 145 families (over 500 people) served by the metered system pay their monthly assessments. The community is proud that their water system has established that everybody pays and they have built up a reserve fund of over $1000 for any mechanical emergencies.

This is what the future can look like.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Saturday scenes: Nicaragua site visits

El Porvenir partners with the people of rural Nicaragua to bring clean water, safe sanitation, and tools to sustain their land for future generations. Where better to assist this work than in schools? Yesterday we, board members, were driven around to three schools in the Terrabona region.

At Las Joyas:
Students hung on the fence, curious about their North American visitors.

The organization has provided an elegant handwashing station. The neighborhood has decorated it ...

... and teachers amplify the message that clean hands reduce sickness.

The students performed their festive dance with their visitors.

At a nearby pre-school:
More dancing and some enthusiastic drummers ...

... and three squeaky clean latrines, lovingly painted by parents.

The children had made the girls' stall their own; their teacher displayed their toilet paper holder made from a recycled plastic bleach bottle.

At another school we were feted with skits created for Indigenous People's Day:
Besides getting to dress up, kids acted out the story of how invading Spaniards set native people against each other -- the boys got to "bang-bang" very happily.

Students displayed their native foods and plants ...

... while proud mothers watched.

Next post will be about the community-wide pumping and water delivery system which El Porvenir has enabled the community to build and manage.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday cat blogging

For Morty's fans, here he is, looking somewhat diminished and perhaps shaken by his 9 day adventure away from home. We're giving him an appetite stimulant. He lost at least a pound and half; he's a very bony fellow these days. Thanks to the E.P. for the photo.

So who's this, you may ask. I don't have a name. I met her Thursday afternoon in Managua, Nicaragua, where I'm visiting for a long weekend with the board of the water and sanitation organization El Porvenir. More over the next few days I am sure.