Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The hazard that comes with our best choices

Erudite Partner's latest syndicated TomDispatch article asks Is the Pandemic Patriarchal?

Because our society routinely disadvantages women, the novel virus and the social distancing with which we have responded only have made more difficult the lives of many, or even most, women. It's not just being cooped up the house with increased childcare responsibilities. Men seem to be more vulnerable to catching the disease, but because of how families and societies are organized, women face ongoing, escalating threats. E.P. spells it out.

Good news you understandably might have missed

While we were all trying to adjust to being locked down, some good stuff happened out there.

Did you know that Colorado abolished the death penalty last Monday? Governor Jared Polis signed the measure sent him from the Democratic legislature eliminating capital punishment and also converted the sentences of three men awaiting execution to life without the possibility of parole. This makes Colorado the 22nd state without a death penalty. Many states, including California, retain death penalty laws on the books, but seldom or never execute convicted offenders.
Early in March, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger ordered removal of Confederate paraphernalia from all of the service's bases. Oh, you thought that the victor in that war had been determined a century and a half ago? So did I. But after members of Congress had held a hearing on white supremacist activity in the ranks, the general felt he should take action.

"We're not being politically correct -- nobody told me to do this. The sergeant major and I are just trying to do what's right for the institution.

"We're trying to make it better."

Finally, the Water Is Life movement scored a big win against a dangerous, dirty oil pipeline.

... a federal court issued a major ruling in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s legal challenge to the Dakota Access Pipeline. The D.C. Court of Appeals found that the Army Corps of Engineers violated federal law in giving the pipeline a permit to cross beneath the Missouri River, at a spot just north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, whose residents say the pipeline poses an ongoing threat to their drinking water, sacred sites, and way of life.

“This decision vindicates everything we have been saying,” Dallas Goldooth, a grassroots organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, tells Mother Jones. “Indigenous expert knowledge cannot be ignored. The fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground cannot be ignored. This is a huge win, not just for the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux Tribes, but for the hundreds of other nations fighting extractive projects on their lands.”

Will this hold up in court? There's a chance. The victory is a reminder of what Native Americans have to know: never say never.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Raised up by the wind in colonized Massachusetts

When Puritan colonists descended on epidemic-decimated Massachusetts in the 1600s, they ostensibly believed it was their responsibility to evangelize the existing Native inhabitants. According to Michael P. Winship's Hot Protestants: A History of Puritanism in England and America:

The English had always made pious, empty noise about the missionizing goals of their colonies. "Come over and help us," says the Native American on the 1629 seal of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Yet for already overworked New England ministers faced with what one called the "veriest ruins of mankind," it was easier to agree with the illustrious John Cotton about the Native Americans' place in God's plan for humanity. The Native Americans' mass conversion was to take place only after the mass conversion of the Jews. Since the Jews remained stubbornly Jewish, the Native Americans must remain, for the time being, Native American, and there was no point in putting energy into trying to convert them.

Somewhat surprisingly, some local Natives took it upon themselves to investigate the Englishmen's God. After all, that God seemed powerful while their Wampanoag spirits had allowed the epidemic.

Winship tells the story of a man named Waban who apparently had always felt a call to be a spiritual leader of some sort to his people, but never quite found his role until he decided to study the secrets of the English religion. He then led a community called by the Puritans the "Praying Indians" who attempted to adopt Puritan customs. They convinced at least some Puritan congregations of the authenticity of their acceptance of the Christ and were baptized -- a far from perfunctory rite in that colony. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts confirmed their title to their land and later the town of Natick was founded as a home for "Praying Indians." Conversion spread around Cape Cod and particularly offshore on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Though imported European illnesses continued to kill off members of the tribe for several generations, some Wampanoags found a way to make their peace with the white men's God.

Waban's acceptance of Christianity had one idiosyncrasy to it. He never adopted the practice, common among Praying Indians, of taking a Christian first name. Perhaps that was because he felt he did not need to, for his name was already charged with Christian significance. "Waban" meant "wind," and Eliot's first sermon to the Notamun Indians was on Ezekiel 37:1-4, which speaks of wind stirring dry bones.

Native Americans and English alike made the connection between the verse and Waban and his evangelizing activities. For Waban, his prophetic name meant that the coming of Christianity started before the arrival of Europeans. Other Native Americans recalled pre-contact dreams of the arrival of black-clothed missionaries, while still others were convinced that the missionaries were restoring wisdom the Native Americans had forgotten.

These newest of Native American stories, about how their God used the English to complete his bringing of this truth to them, meant nothing to most colonists. ...

The Praying Indian community was further repressed in the wake of what the colonists called "King Phillip's War" in 1676 when some of the tribespeople rose up against the English interlopers.

But elements of a syncretistic piety survive to this day among the Wampanoags. On Martha's Vineyard Island, the tribe is an important component of a racially diverse population. In southern Massachusetts in the last few days, the Trump Administration Department of the Interior is trying to "disestablish" the Mashpec Wampanoags. Perhaps the tribe is suspected of wanting to compete with Trump in a casino business?
I thought of Waban when we read from Ezekiel about the dry bones brought to life by wind in online church on Sunday morning.
The illustration here is from Native American Netroots.

I took up Hot Protestants as part of my personal "1620 project" in which I'm trying to learn a little more about the story of my ancestors who were among those tough but otherwise unattractive settlers at Plymouth 400 years ago. A previous post:
Those Plymouth Puritans

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Instacart workers call for work stoppage

This is so brave it's breathtaking. Workers serving as "personal shoppers" for the gig grocery delivery company Instacart plan to walk off their jobs tomorrow, March 30, demanding the company provide them with protective equipment, hazard pay including a default tip of 10 percent of the order, and to keep promises to assist any worker impacted by COVID-19.

I first encountered Instacart while working on an election campaign for a union in 2018. As is always the case on a campaign, there was too much to do with too few people to accomplish it. The autumn days were burning hot; we were sending squads of canvassers out all day long; they carried multiple plastic bottles of water to keep themselves from heat stroke. A nearby big box store advertised deliveries by Instacart.

We needed 20 cases of water NOW. So we ordered for immediate delivery. Several hours later, well into the evening, a battered looking middle aged woman stuck her head into the office. "Where's the elevator?"

There was no elevator, only a full flight of stairs. "I'm not going to be able to carry these cases of water up here." That looked to be true.

A couple of us went down stairs with her. Somehow she had managed to cram 20 cases of water into a battered mid-size Corolla. The car looked as if it might blow apart. So did she.

Naturally, we mobilized a few folks and carried the water up to the office. We made sure to more than double the tip in the app.

And we only used Instacart sparingly after that, knowing that we were contributing to the exploitation of desperate people.

Now many shut-in people need these Instacart workers to deliver their food. They are performing an essential service. There are so many delivery options in this crisis, I wonder whether these workers can exert real pressure on the company. But you gotta applaud their courage and dignity to press their demands even in these tough times.

Saturday, March 28, 2020


Somebody pinned this up on 24th Street. I like it, even if it is a bit saccharine.

Social distancing, physical distancing ...

... means standing in lines ...

... this one to enter Costco. These scenes are from about a week ago. I haven't returned.

Meanwhile on an upscale neighborhood shopping strip ...

There's no mistaking what is expected of shoppers ...

... this was "senior shopping," early one morning, all carefully ordered.

Friday, March 27, 2020

San Fran rocks!

Activist community organizations and union locals have come together calling themselves United in Crisis to demand a more humane and more just city response to the coronavirus pandemic and economic crash. They put out a ten point program:
  • Meeting Basic needs:
    Ensure Equitable Access to Information For All
    Ensure Deliveries of Food and Medications
  • Workers
    Create Public Health Emergency Leave and Worker Protections
    Direct Payments to Vulnerable Workers, Not Through Employers
  • Students and School Communities
    Schools Sites Act as Centers for Food, Childcare, Wellness
    Sustainable Funding to Fill Gaps in School and Childcare Systems
  • Healthcare
    Provide Full Healthcare Staffing at all Public Facilities
    Give Access to Basic Sanitation and Testing for All San Franciscans
  • Housing and Homelessness
    Implement a Full Eviction Moratorium
    Give Access to Unfilled Hotels and Private Housing
Even as we shelter in place, we can hold our city pols accountable -- and take notes about who has risen to this awful occasion.

To learn more and to build community strength, check out San Francisco United in Crisis.

Friday cat blogging from lockdown

We're all in here together. Morty can look out the window. Virus or no virus, we wouldn't let him out anyway, but he can hope for a sunbeam.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Those Plymouth puritans

Less religiously zealous English commentators of the 16th century maintained that Puritans were "hot protestants." The Protestant Reformation and the emergence of a mercantile bourgeois class which formed a novel, post-feudal, power center turned the island kingdom upside down. The puritans, rigorous and cantankerous Calvinists, were undesirable troublemakers in the view of nearly everyone who didn't agree with them. Between the 1540s and the 1690s

... puritans executed a king, helped remove another one, founded a short-lived republic in England, and established quasi-republics in New England. Coming from all ranks of society, puritans reshaped England's religious culture, destroyed much of its great medieval artistic legacy, wrote creeds and catechisms with worldwide impact, and created a lasting body of religious literature.

... They were the most determined seekers of salvation and the most committed activists for the moral and spiritual reformation necessary to keep God's wrath off England for its many sins and for its failure raise itself to the pristine standards of the Bible. ...

The central institution for guidance in these great puritan struggles with outward and inward sin was, or should have been, the Church of England. ... Puritans supported the Church of England's religious tasks, as well as its religious monopoly. God had only one truth, and England should have only one monarch and one church that governed the country together in their different spheres. The Reformation had been about religious liberty only insofar as that meant the liberty of follow God's law correctly, as outlined in the Bible.

For puritans, the problem with the Church of England was that it was following God's law only erratically, which meant, in their eyes, that it did none of its tasks well. It lagged far behind the continental Reformed churches in purging itself of the government, worship, and the inadequate discipline of its Catholic past. Ever-growing hostility toward puritanism from authorities in church and state eventually pushed some puritans to take the drastic step of immigrating to New England.

... In New England, puritans could finish the business of puritans: fashioning governments and properly reformed Calvinist church establishments that would supervise a unified Christian community, and see to it that God's elect were shepherded to heaven ...

The enormous virtue of Michael P. Winship's Hot Protestants: A History of Puritanism in England and America, for someone who received a mostly forgotten introduction to mythologized Massachusetts "Pilgrim fathers" in grade school, is that it places those puritans firmly in the context of English political and religious history of which they were but a small offshoot -- albeit one that fathered a worldwide evangelical style which completely overshadowed its Church of England roots. Those who took off across the ocean dodged the high drama and considerable misery of England's religious/civil war of the mid-17th century; they were simply not important in the life and death struggles that consumed the mother country. Consequently they were able to design their own inward looking communities with little hindrance. For many years, they didn't have to realize how far out of phase with England's evolving society and culture they had become. The Atlantic is a big ocean

Here's some of Winship's take on my Plymouth ancestors, the earliest of the puritan emigrants. Their little separatist congregation included apparently some of the hottest of the hot ones.

By the end of the 1610s, their hopes of fostering reformation in the Netherlands were growing dim. Making a living was hard and the Dutch did not meet their high standards of piety. They told themselves that these problems were what prevented English people from flocking to them and freeing themselves from the corruptions of the Church of England. If the separatists went to America and prospered, however, their countrymen would be keener to join them there. And so the decision was made to cross the Atlantic. ... When the time came to depart from the Netherlands in July 1620, the majority of the congregation got cold feet. ...

Their ship got lost on what became the coast of Massachusetts; they settled in an abandoned native village they found depopulated by a recent epidemic; around half of the settlers died in the ensuing winter, leaving only ten households. Moreover they had brought with them no pastor; their former leader who they hoped to import died in London in an outbreak of the plague. They made do with lay leadership from one William Bradford whose chronicle of the colony gave it its later prominence

By 1626, the future of the debt-laden, minister less plantation, its roughly 150 settlers, and the reformation it had hoped to foster appeared grim. Plymouth seemed destined to join the growing scrap heap of failed English North American colonies. "To look humanly on the state of things as they presented themselves at this time, it is a marvel it did not wholly discourage them," Bradford wrote later. That the plantation did survive was because it would shortly acquire a sympathetic, larger, and much better connected puritan neighbor to the north ...

That is, my ancestors needed a rescue and they got lucky. The Massachusetts Bay colony at what became Boston replaced Plymouth as the center of the Calvinist bridgehead in New England. Its leaders were far more sophisticated, and better funded and connected, refugees from the English monarch's effort to suppress the strong strain of Calvinism in the Church of England. Regicide and Civil War followed from Charles II's failure to manage his religiously fractious kingdom.

Meanwhile, the little Plymouth settlement became part of a "United Colonies of New England" compact in 1643, consisting of almost 50 towns. This put this faraway appendage of the embattled English state well on its way to founding its own community "propagating and preserving the truth and liberties of the gospel," and providing for its own defense and welfare. Once kings were re-established in England -- not really until after 1688 -- the Crown tried to resume control over its overseas protestant colonies. The strains of that effort prefigured the eruption of discontent less than 100 years later which led to these United States.

Professor Winship is an American historian, but his real apparent field of interest is Protestant reformation politics in early modern England. This is a fascinating book about the many ins and outs of Calvinist fortunes vis a vis various iterations of governments and the Church of England. I found it solid on the American colonial aspects of the story, but this is not the best part. Still I would recommend taking a look if the course of English speaking Calvinism interests you. The book is also fascinating on what happened when these New England puritans tried to evangelize the native American people among whom they had plopped their little godly polity. I'm planing another post on that story.

I took up Hot Protestants as part of my personal "1620 project" in which I'm trying to learn a little more about the story of my ancestors who were among those tough but otherwise unattractive settlers at Plymouth 400 years ago. A previous post in the series is here:
Those Massachusetts pilgrims

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Out and about

Sunrise over 24th Street on Wednesday morning. They say I can take a walk, so I've gone back to a practice I haven't done in years, perambulating a rapid 5K on Valencia and adjacent streets at dawn. It's not hard to stay a good distance from others; there aren't many others. Most runners stay on the sidewalks, but I can't or I'll risk activating my chronic plantar fasciitis.

I am a little distressed to see increasing vehicle traffic over the last few days. The flow is a lot like what used to be visible at a similar hour on Sundays. Don't know whether that's a sign we're not staying inside or this is essential urban life. A city sure depends on a lot of labor that is usually invisible to other residents who aren't doing it.

Over the weekend, people jammed the parks, enough to persuade our authorities to work hard to keep people out by closing parking lots. I was distressed to read that those who flocked to the out-of-doors took the opportunity to run off with the toilet paper and hand sanitizer from public restrooms.

Last week I continued my Walking San Francisco project. Ambling through neighborhoods with a camera is a form of going for a walk, isn't it? I drove to my starting points; in normal times I try to arrive by public transit. I encountered few people and avoided contact. I think I'll do a few more precincts this week and see how it feels. If walking about acquires a social stigma or there's an order against it, I'll stop.

The world seems to contract and yet we get by with a little help from our friends. A phone call from a faraway friend interrupted posting this. Yes!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bored in lockdown? Fill out your census form!

Do it now if you haven't yet! You are not only being a good citizen, you are helping your city to the tune of $2000 in federal funding per person enumerated and ensuring that California is allocated all the Congresscritters we should get. Since we're a lot saner here than some places, we need all the representation our true numbers deserve. By filling out your form, you are also sparing Census employees one less door to knock on -- and one less potential risk of encountering the damn virus. They aren't out there now, but some level of virus is going to be with us for a long time ...

It's easy to do. You've almost certainly received a letter addressed to "RESIDENT."

There are more instructions than you'll probably need. The government goes in for paper.

The questions mostly seem innocuous: how many persons live in your home, who are they, do you "own" (pay a mortgage) or rent.

EP took offense when asked her sex. "What -- no place for 'sprite'?!" The census doesn't know diddly-squat about the variations within sexes and among genders.

We let it rip in the race/ethnicity section after declaring ourselves "White"; I'm "English, Irish, and French Hugenot"; she's "Ashkenazi Jewish, Ukrainian, and English." Wonder how, or even if, they compile this stuff.

Since the federal government is proving itself something of a hostile entity these days, it is slightly anxious-making to offer them information, even for folks like us. But we all have to do it for the sake of community solidarity ... we get by with a little help from our friends.

Monday, March 23, 2020

California doing the right thing

Even that strutting plutocrat, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, warns we may face 20 percent unemployment as public health measures shut down so much of the economy. Many of those laid off workers will lose whatever health insurance they received from employers. Heck, small business employers may lose their health insurance.

Covered California, the state health insurance marketplace, has announced it will extend its enrollment period from April 30 to June 30.

“We want to get as many people covered as possible to ensure they have access to the health care they need,” said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, in a statement. “Having more people insured is the right thing to do, and this action builds on our efforts to leave no one behind in California.”

Under Covered California, people have access to private health insurance plans with monthly premiums that may be lowered as new federal and state financial help becomes available, according to a news release. Coverage begins on the first day of the following month after a person chooses a plan.

Some people may also be eligible for no-cost or low-cost Medi-Cal, which becomes effective right away after signing up online.

It's not the universal health plan this county needs, but at least our health officials are trying in this moment of need.

UPDATE: March 23. It's not just California. States colored purple here are opening their exchanges to the flood of newly unemployed people who are going to need health insurance. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is still pursuing its legal efforts to tear down the whole Obamacare edifice.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

From my clutter to your screen: coronavirus oddments

If you haven't seen this, you have to (unless perhaps you are easily upset by "bad" language). If you've seen it before, play it again. It might cheer you up.

An article in STAT, a credible medical news publication, points to a COVID-19 Self Triage Tool, developed out of USC. It's a website that helps you evaluate whether that tickle in the back of your throat is a serious symptom or not. Of course, unless you are seriously ill there is nothing medicine can do for you, but still, for most of us this can be reassuring.

Economist Dean Baker has been beating the drum for years, insisting that drug companies shouldn't win exclusive rights to new drugs -- instead the government should incentivize innovation with one time cash prizes to the inventors. He argues it is time to take the patent-seeking motivation out of efforts to develop a vaccine.

The situation we see today is that many top-notch researchers, in Germany, China, the U.S., and elsewhere, are racing to develop a vaccine that can enter the testing process. The problem with this picture is that they are working in competition, not collaboration. This means that they are not widely sharing information with each other, since they don’t want to give their competitors an edge.

... Each team of researchers hopes to be able to gain a patent on an effective vaccine. This could in principle lead to an enormous payoff, as they will have a monopoly on a vaccine that protects people from a potentially deadly disease. But these are not ordinary days. The coronavirus pandemic cries out for an alternative approach. Instead of competing, these teams of researchers could be working in cooperation with each other, sharing new findings quickly and fully.  

When a successful vaccine is developed, it can be placed in the public domain, which means that it can be sold as a cheap generic from the first day it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This would mean that we don’t have to worry about begging a drug company to make its vaccine available at an affordable price. Drugs are almost always cheap to manufacture and distribute. If there were no patent monopoly, drug companies would not be able to charge high prices.

... Rather than giving out patent monopolies so that they may recover additional private expenditures, it would make far more sense just to have the government pick up the rest of the tab for the research and testing so that the companies would have no research costs to recover. This would be the best route to ensure the quick development of an affordable vaccine. 

Baker is completely convincing; the drug monopolies are incredibly powerful. But they shouldn't have the power to condemn people to death for profit.

Juan Cole points out:

Why Burning Fossil Fuels is to Today’s Pandemics as Fleas were to the Black Death
... There is an exact analogy between Trump’s treatment of Covid-19 and his treatment of the climate emergency. In both cases, he and his surrogates attacked the science and took pride in giving the finger to reality. Trump actually promotes coal and petroleum, the dirtiest fossil fuels, as though he is impatient to see the lower floors of his Trump Tower in Manhattan under water. Likewise, he takes pride in holding infectious rallies and shaking hands. ...

Everything comes down to our coal burning.

My favorite writer on training for long distance running, David Roche, responded to the anxiety his coached athletes were showing.

Psychologists say that anxiety is partially related to our brain’s desire to map structure onto an uncertain world. Well, right now we have lots of uncertainty and the removal of lots of structure. It’s an immensely hard and strange time. Some people feel overwhelmed, scared, or sad. Some people become problem-solvers, which in this uncertain moment could manifest as some interesting social-media posts. Some launch into fear, denial, anger. For others it’s like a snow day, full of adventure. All of this is mapped onto a world where economic disparity and privilege is inextricable from actions and options.

Through it all, the beauty of the human spirit shined. People are thinking about social good and collective action in a way that is unique to crisis. And it’s on full display in the athletic community. But throw that beauty of the human spirit in with the fragility of the human body, the uncertainty, the political situation and the economic downturn, and it can get overwhelmed by the bitter tastes, particularly if you’re looking at TV news or Twitter. 

Fast forward to now. We are in a world of uncertainty, and probably will be for a bit. I coach psychologists who are scared and sad. I coach hourly workers who are laughing. Our responses to the crisis are as unpredictable as the pandemic itself.
In that swirl of uncertainty, just try as hard as you can to cut yourself slack. ...

Good advice.

Just one more thought. Maybe we should listen to a nun.

People say they want peace and quiet. Then when it is thrown in their lap, they panic. They don’t know how to be alone. They are afraid to confront their “shadow side,” the hard truths about themselves that they don’t like. They fill their lives with noise to run away from their emotions. Life isn’t meant to be rushed. Use this time to get to know yourself.

Stop. Be still. You can either waste this period of social-distancing and be frustrated, or you can choose to make it the best it can be.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Saturday scenes: shutdown Mission

Early Friday morning I took a walk north on Valencia to 16th St, east to Mission, and south to my starting point, carefully distancing myself from the few other people abroad at 8am.

It was jarring to see the Crepe House boarded up. Note the young heterosexual couple strolling together with their morning coffees. Insofar as there were people walking within the six foot zone we're supposed to keep clear, these were the sort I saw.

Across the street, the tough lefty survivors of Radio Habana Social Club are out for the duration.

There was a line at Ritual Roasters -- properly spaced out to avert contagion over caffeine I should mention.

There were a few unhoused people sleeping in doorways, but less than I am used to seeing. Where have people gone, I wonder?

El Buen Sabor was also boarded up.

There were plenty of runners! Up until very recently, I might have been among them -- I used to run Valencia in the bike lane sometimes, but only very early on Sunday mornings when I could be sure of little traffic. Maybe I should give this another try ... But I couldn't do what either of these people were doing, running on the sidewalk. I need the relative softness of asphalt -- hence running the street.

Never noticed this place on Mission before; nice sign.

This gent was checking a take-out menu. Aren't we all? We're actually more likely to grab take-out as long as some of these hole-in-the-wall places continue to serve. They need all the customers they can get or they won't make it through this. I don't trust that any bailout is going to reach the owners and workers of Mission storefront restaurants. Will they be replaced by chains or just shuttered forever?

Yet another locked coffee shop. Will such community places ever reopen? It's hard to imagine they can hold on for a long closing. Yet we all know urban communities are not only changeable, they are also surprisingly resilient. Time will tell.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Direct action: homes for homeless Angelenos

“With this health crisis and this housing crisis, we need every vacant house to be a home for those who don’t have a safe and stable place to sleep in,” said Ruby Gordillo, 33, while standing on the porch of a two-bedroom bungalow before moving in with her three children.

Gordillo and others involved in the protest have said they were inspired by a group of homeless mothers in Oakland. Late last year, those mothers took over a vacant, corporate-owned property and, after they were evicted, secured backing from Gov. Gavin Newsom to force the Bay Area property’s sale to a community land trust.

Like the Oakland moms, the protesters in El Sereno are affiliated with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, an organization that has advocated several statewide measures to expand rent control and tenant protections.

Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2020

Brave ... and desparate.

Friday cat blogging

No, this cat is not wondering why I'm breaking the lockdown. This was some weeks ago, when a passerby was a more ordinary curiosity. I am still Walking San Francisco, staying six feet away from any other walkers ...

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Can Donald Trump cancel the November election?

Suppose all the polls say he'll be defeated when the country votes on November 3rd? It certainly looks likely this will be where it's at: presidents who preside over apocalyptic plagues and economic plunges aren't popular. So can he intervene somehow to stop us from choosing a replacement? Given the character of the man, he is almost certain to try.

So it seems responsible to collect what we know now about this possibility so we can begin to get our minds around what we might have to raise hell about. With some luck, none of the bad stuff will happen, but we haven't had a lot of luck lately.

Some states have postponed primary elections during the last week. Without the cooperation of Congress, Trump cannot do that in November; the voting day, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, was set by statute in 1845. Good thing we elected a Democratic House; I don't see Nancy Pelosi caving in on that.

Moreover, that pesky Electoral College is required by law to meet in December and it takes the results of an election to choose the electors. And the 20th amendment to the Constitution says the president's term is four years, ending at noon January 20; after that, election or no election, no more President Trump unless he's won re-election in the normal way.

What the president is more likely to try to do is scare people out of voting. There's no reason to think he'd be truthful when doing that. He might claim the Chinese had poisoned all the polling places or some such racist fantasy. Limbaugh and Hannity will be right on it. Can you see him announcing an emergency cancellation that he has no authority for? Sure, he already has used a phony emergency for his Wall. Trump's opponents need to work to be sure our folks know he doesn't have the authority to stop the vote.

One protection we might have against a phony emergency is that the people most likely to believe Trump's claims are his voters, not ours. Old Republicans are, unfortunately, some of the most credulous people around. And about that sort of thing, Trump is canny.

The best way to protect the November election now is to agitate for making mail balloting available everywhere. This is tough to achieve since voting rules are set state-by-state and most blue states already make voting easier in many ways. Its largely the GOP places that make voting so hard. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is pushing for $500 million in federal money to help states set up mail voting systems -- how about making that part of the coronavirus stimulus? And how about some more cash to set up early voting polling places so voters can practice distancing without lines? Republicans won't be eager; they believe that when everyone can vote easily, they lose more than they win.

Buzzfeed examines what laws might stop Trump from breaking the November election.

Ed Kilgore has a great rundown of which states provide mail-in ballots now. California encourages voters to sign up for permanent mail-in voting and automatically sends out ballots to the two thirds of us who want them. Happily, both our neighbors, Arizona and Nevada, do the same. In the latter case the practice is getting its first run in 2020. Voters in Arizona have to ask to their County Recorder's office to be on the Permanent Early Voter list.

The Brennan Center offers a plan to "Protect the 2020 Vote from the Coronavirus" which suggests numerous doable measures that could be taken to make voting safer and easier in a time of pandemic. They've got suggestions on all of it, from easy voter registration to healthy polling places. Activists should take note: some of our states and local authorities can implement much of this even if we can't win federal money.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

A couple of good news elections in Illinois

Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx defeated her challengers in the Democratic primary, assuring re-election in the fall. She had overcome millions of dollars of TV attack ads designed to scare voters that her efforts to reduce the numbers held in jails were corrupt and dangerous. It didn't work. Because of the damn virus, her victory speech had to be delivered to cameras instead of a cheering crowd.

“I want to help make Cook County a more inclusive and thriving community, where everyone is welcome,” she said. “I pledge to keep pushing for that change, that is fair, that is just, that is equitable, that will keep our communities safe,” she said.

When Black women are elected as prosecutors, too many white people are ready to believe that the justice reforms they bring in make them on the side of the crooks. But not in Chicago in this cycle!

Meanwhile challenger Marie Newman has unseated incumbent Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski in the primary. Lipinski was one of the last of Dems' right wing dinosaurs. I mean come on, the guy routinely worked to restrict women's access to abortion and voted against Obamacare. It took Newman two tries and a lot of fundraising to knock him out -- but bit by bit, we can win better Dems.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

A plague of fear

So that coward and nincompoop in the White House is trying to blame China for a virus -- and this follows:
Also this:

Gun stores are reporting a sharp rise in the number of Asian people purchasing firearms to protect themselves from racist attacks amid the coronavirus outbreak.

David Liu, the owner of Arcadia Firearm & Safety in San Gabriel Valley, has claimed that he has seen around 10 times more customers walk through his door in recent weeks.

"It was crazy," Liu told Newsweek. "One example is on March 3 and 4, I had 50 plus people come in here to take their firearms safety test and everyone one of them bought a gun. That's quite unusual for my small shop.

"They're all coming in because the media is telling them that Asians are being targeted, Chinese are being targeted."

We get a choice: fear or solidarity. Let's help each other choose better.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Growing up in a cage

This book came to me literally as a found item. While Walking San Francisco, I happened upon the San Francisco Public Library mobile tech classroom. Somebody had set outside a carton of books the library was "de-accessioning" -- getting rid of -- for free. I couldn't go by without looking and picked up this title: Gaijin: American Prisoner of War.

What a find! Graphic novelist Matt Faulkner has adopted experiences from his own family history to draw the story of the coming of age of a mixed Japanese-American San Francisco teenage boy, Koji Miyamoto, after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. His father was traveling in Japan at the time; U.S. authorities find that suspicious. His schoolmates call him "Jap" and beat him up; when internment is ordered, his white mother chooses to go with him to the holding camp set up on Alameda island. There, a gang of "pure" Japanese boys taunt him as a "gaijin" -- outside person. They claim his white mother is making nice with the white solider jailers. This insult leaves him furious and confused. He dreams that his father is a Japanese aviator bombing American enemies. He becomes more and more lost in violent fantasies and tries to join up with the camp's bullies who have been abusing him.

Fortunately an older male internee who had employed his father, Mr. Yoshi Asai, befriends the increasingly disturbed boy-child. Luck and dignified compassion enable Mr. Yoshi to keep Koji from being caught stealing food and from being treated as a criminal. Eventually all 8000 northern Californian internees from Alameda are driven off to Camp Agua Dulce in the mountains above Santa Clarita.

The novel jumps to the war's aftermath and then to a mature Koji's reunion in postwar Japan with his father who survived the war though the father is portrayed as using a crutch to walk.

Faulkner's drawings are extraordinary, warm and full of deft movement. Their warmth contrasts with the considerable violence of the action in the story.

I had to wonder, why was the library getting rid of this? The copy I picked up is undamaged. Perhaps it falls between many stools -- not really a book for "young adults" as it is labeled, uncomplimentary to just about all the races and adults represented, yet not strictly moralistic either. Just what I appreciated.

If anyone in San Francisco wants this book, I'll deliver it to your front door in this season of social distancing. Just ask in comments.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Online church

Some of the community of the Episcopal Church of Saint John the Evangelist meets for Sunday reflection in the season of the coronavirus. Not at all what we would want, but in this emergency, community is where it is at. Now how to include and support the less technologically enabled?

Saturday, March 14, 2020

From my clutter: navigating the pandemic ethically

I had hoped to make this a "no coronavirus" zone this Saturday -- but so much of my brain and what I find to share is COVID-19 related that I'm breaking my resolve.
As readers here know, we spent last fall on Martha's Vineyard island off Massachusetts. It had occurred to me that this isolated spot was probably not a bad place to be in context of a pandemic. Apparently many have had the same thought and seasonal visitors are arriving months early. According to the Martha's Vineyard Times, there's a "rush of traffic." The newspaper interviewed a medical ethicist:

In a phone conversation with The Times, Ruth Faden, founder of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, spoke about the ethics behind people deciding to come to the Vineyard to leave areas where there’s been an outbreak or a growing number of confirmed cases.

Fader is a specialist in ethical issues in medicine, biomedical science, and public health. “In some respects I think it’s better if everybody stays put,” she said. Faden, a part-time Island resident, has been wondering herself whether to return to the Island. “The less movement the better and that’s because it’s just unclear what is happening.”

As for non full-time residents coming to the Island from areas with outbreaks or growing numbers of cases, Fader said it depends on what they know about their chances or likelihood of bringing COVID-19 to the Island. “How are you supposed to proceed in the absence of testing? Fader said. “Did these people do something ethically wrong? It’s something that is maybe not ethically ideal, but it’s hard to fault people. This is their home too and they love it.”

As to whether people have a moral obligation to try not to facilitate the transmission, Fader was blunt. “The answer is yes. We should be really careful.”

Heart warmingly, the notice I received today from the library I use on the island about closing assured me:

Our WiFi is operational and accessible from the parking lot and porch. You are welcome to use it.

I wonder whether the shuttered San Francisco Public Library is offering the same service. Guess I'll wander across the street and check.
Yes, the Mission branch of the SFPL does offer WiFi by the locked front door.

If you've got the mental energy for a long, thoughtful article about the psychological ramifications of living in the coronavirus zone, this from Peter M. Sandman and Jody Lanard, risk experts, is interesting. Maybe even insightful.

We relatively normal people are caught in a battle between our gut and our brain.

Our gut “knows” that we’re almost certainly facing a pandemic severe enough to disrupt our normal lives.

If we were 100% rational, our brain would know it too. “Star Trek’s” Mr. Spock would find the evidence persuasive that the COVID-19 threat is bad and rapidly getting worse. Mr. Spock would instantly understand COVID-19’s short doubling time – why one week nothing much was happening in northern Italy and a week later it was as if a Category 5 hurricane had hit them. Sure, the pandemic might fizzle; the virus might mutate into a milder strain; a miracle cure or vaccine might get invented overnight; the world could get lucky. But those are long shots. The vast majority of experts now expect at least a few very bad months, and maybe a couple of very bad years.

... Our guts are right. Our brains are behind the curve. Caught in our fear, self-doubt, and embarrassment, we do half-hearted pandemic preparedness. The same is true of our officials. They too are torn between the intuition that they’re not doing enough and the embarrassed fear that they might be doing too much. We suspect this accounts for their halfway or grossly belated containment and mitigation measures.

If only officials could tell us that they are feeling what we are feeling. They are. We’re sure they are. If they could say so, we might be able to help each other overcome our ambivalence and focus on facing the COVID-19 pandemic head-on, together. But saying so is a challenge.

Our terrified President is hopeless, but other officials could adopt this.

As I yelled across appropriate distance to a friend yesterday, this isn't making us behave better. There are reports:

Already we’re beginning to see suspicion and paranoia play out in public spaces. People struggling with allergies report that every cough elicits glares. In Sydney, Australia, reports say that a man died after he collapsed outside a Chinese restaurant and onlookers refused to perform CPR. Asian-Americans have reported racist comments and harassment, based on the wrongheaded belief that they’re more likely to be carrying the coronavirus.

Yes, Trump's administration is encouraging us to default to our racist and xenophobic impulses. So what else is new?

New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie is wondering

whether, in the aftermath of the coronavirus, Americans will lose even more faith in the ability of institutions to do anything. And if that happens, what does it mean for those of us who want to build a more humane society?

This is from Bouie's newsletter which I highly recommend. He's thinks both historically and with a vision toward possible futures. And shares both photos and recipes.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Oil: "the excrement of the devil" and some of its works

It's gotten a little lost now that we are living in a world turned upside down by coronovirus, but we're also in the backwash of some kind of global oil price war. No wonder the great casino on Wall Street has gone bonkers.

Just what's going on with the oil business seems murky. That psychopathic Crown Prince in Saudi Arabia has been locking up his relatives, perhaps to seize the throne prematurely, and somehow his antics turned into a bidding war with Russia over who could pump and sell the most oil at lower rates. Global prices took a nose dive, which might seem like a good thing when you have to fill up the car, but it's not so simple.

Lower gasoline prices will benefit consumers and lower transportation costs for businesses. However, they are very bad for U.S. oil producers. Highly indebted fracking firms may not be able to obtain further bank loans or perhaps even stay in business. States such as Texas and North Dakota, where fossil fuel extraction is a big part of the economy, would face hard times.

"The excrement of the devil" wags the dog that is the world economy; our current apparent collapse into recession may have as much to do with a couple of dictators' fossil fuel fixations as financial barons fearing the flu.

We're fortunate that someone does know a great deal about the history and machinations of the oil economy -- and where Trump and Russia fit in it all. MSNBC's news host Rachel Maddow has a story to tell.

Her new book Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth consists of 29 chapters of good yarns, episodes in fossil fuel villainy. In this vivid denunciation of the cruelty, corruption, and crackpot lunacy of the oil extraction industry, she spells out the horrors in a well-crafted romp about lone wolf drillers, corporate kleptocrats, and vicious dictators, all the way from Pennsylvania fields, to fracking quakes shaking Oklahoma, through Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, and Venezuela, to Vladimir Putin, Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump. She writes:

I like driving a pickup and heating my house as much as the next person, and the through line between energy and economic growth and development is as clear to me as an electric streetlight piercing the black night. But the political impact of the industry that brings us those things is also worth recognizing as a key ingredient in the global chaos and democratic downturn we're now living through.

I don't mean to be rude, but I also want to be clear: the oil and gas industry is essentially a big casino that can produce both power and triumphant great gobs of cash, often with little regard for merit. That equation invites gangsterism, extortion, thuggery, and the sorts of folks who enjoy these hobbies. It's practitioners have been lumbering across the globe of late, causing mindless damage and laying the groundwork for the global catastrophe that is the climate crisis, but also reordering short-term geopolitics in a strong-but-dumb survival contest that renders everything we think of as politics as just theater. ...

And so she goes on to lay out in a series of related vignettes what she concludes: Russia's kleptocrats, finding themselves rulers of a collapsed country with no productive economic assets but a backward oil industry, have been "driven to distraction" and have worked to ensnare the world in the international chaos we suffer from -- "the new world disorder."

This is a provocative, thoroughly researched, book, well worth reading.
I read this as an audiobook while driving across the country last fall. As it happens, one of the few semi-hopeful eruptions of outraged citizens taking back power from the oil barons that Maddow recounts took place in a state we drove through. For decades, Oklahoma's schools were starved of resources because of the refusal of oil barons, fracking cowboys, and corporations to pay taxes on their wealth. The plutocrats even won a provision in the state constitution to require a three-quarters vote to raise their taxes. But Oklahomans have been fighting back.

What happened was democracy. "In politics, money most often trumps merit," says Mike Cantrell, the independent Oklahoma oilman who finally got fed up with the lousy funding and bucked Big Oil in his state. "But constituency trumps everything." After years of killing cuts, the constituency finally started to kick up enough of a fuss that pols started to worry about the damage to their elective selves if they stuck to the status quo. Starting in early 2018, months of walkouts, strikes, and rallies by students, teachers, and parents across the state finally gave Oklahomans in elective office enough courage to punch the bully in the nose. Or at least be seen trying to throw that punch if they wanted to keep their seats.

In the spring of 2018, the legislature approved a series of tax raises (with the needed three-quarters majority in both houses) to increase funding in public education, including a teacher pay raise of close to 15 percent, across the board. Key was a hike in the energy production tax from 2 percent to 5 percent ...

Reading Blowout, I knew what these signs along the Oklahoma highway meant: democracy in action.

Friday cat blogging

Morty is not feeling so well these days. He is an old guy with aches and a nasal tumor. He spends a lot of time in his house, looking out warily lest I approach with his blood pressure pill. He knows about lockdown. All his life we've been insisting: "cats don't go out!"

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Mini-rant on ageism

I found myself driving along behind this today. Who's that? Big Brother? It struck me as creepy.

Apparently it is part of a campaign to End Ageism. The gent is identified as "Mario," a 65-year old Family Therapist. He doesn't strike me as particularly likely to have experienced age discrimination. Quite the contrary. White professional men frequently gain social stature in early old age.

In fact, they are just about the only people who, as a society, we think belong in leadership positions. At least, so the current political moment is showing us.

To be fair, the campaign promotes other people and other images, but why make this young-looking man the image of "leadership"? Some designer was being utterly banal.

And Mario staring from the back of a bus is just weird.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

She is still gripping and unsettling

Revolution of the Heart: The Dorothy Day Story - Trailer HD from Journey Films on Vimeo.

This documentary aired on Public Broadcasting on Monday. I liked it.

I'm suspicious of hagiography around Dorothy and that particularly applies to the campaign to acknowledge her as a saint. She was awe inspiring and nearly impossible -- the impulse to drown the latter in the former can be overwhelming. The film catches her stubbornness as well as her compassion. The Catholic Worker movement wouldn't have existed without both.

Above all, I recommend this for the visuals, for its smooth integration of old pictures with the narrative of Dorothy's life and work. Most of the photos are black and white images which seem true to the poverty of the Depression era as well as among the homeless men who frequented the Bowery area in the 1960s and '70s. It was a starkly gray scene. There were more women about than these pictures would suggest; I found it interesting that more than one the clips of Dorothy speaking about the work referred to women in need who became part of the community.

From viewing this film, you might think that "the poor" among whom Dorothy found her vocation were all white people. That would not be an entirely true picture. In the Catholic Worker's advocacy mission, the movement stood loyally on the side of civil rights for African Americans; Dorothy identified closely with Clarence Jordan's Koinonia Farm, a bravely integrated communal experiment in Georgia.

Yet these gestures toward the nation's original sin were extrinsic to the life of the Worker in Dorothy's time. Certainly the Lower East Side of New York in Dorothy's later years was still home to plenty of older European immigrants who had not escaped from urban squalor to the suburbs -- though their children might have. And there were always some African Americans among the homeless men the Catholic Worker fed and clothed. But in addition to young white people looking for low rents, the neighborhood was filling with Spanish-speaking newcomer families, mostly Puerto Rican. The various kinds brushed past each other, but interacted little in my time there. Dorothy was aware of racial tensions and did what she always did about conflict: both ignored and prayed.

Who'd have thought there'd now be a Whole Foods on New York's Houston Street?

The film describes Dorothy's piety as "conservative." I wouldn't object to the label, though for people who never lived inside American Catholic culture, I'm not sure it communicates adequately. Her understanding of Christianity was formal, traditional, Tridentine, and hierarchical with the overlay of Catholic immigrants' need to prove to "respectable" Protestant Anglos that they weren't just dumb, dissolute Irish Micks and Polaks. Few American Catholics are like that now. Quite a few Catholics were not like that then, including her contemporaries, Thomas Merton in his later years and the Berrigan brothers -- with whom she often felt out of phase.

Yet Dorothy was also mystical, enfolded in a piety that arose out of stories of heroines and saints. One of the oddments in the film which rang very true to me was Cornel West trying to explain how Dorothy's life was rooted in the mass, in receiving Christ in the Eucharist daily. I wouldn't have turned to Cornel West for that insight, but I'm delighted these moviemakers did.

What I often find lacking when people try to explain the power of Dorothy's life is an appreciation that, even into old age, she was a beautiful woman. (For what I consider a sad example, see the Robert Lentz icon.) Yes, she had a piercing stare that could only be met by steeling ones inner core, but she also emanated both calm amid chaos and delight from her depths. In this film, that Dorothy is there for all to see.

If you have a chance -- and I am sure there will be many -- do see this documentary.

I lived in the New York Catholic Worker community for several years in the early 1970s and among Catholic Workers for the remainder of the decade.