Sunday, May 31, 2020

The anger doesn't go away; nor do the outraged

Solidarity or prudence? Hard to know. Valencia Street was already fully boarded up by the coronavirus, but the slogan is new as of this morning, May 31.

I like to think that my neighbors by and large understand the righteous anger of protest against police impunity. But I also remember that five years ago, our own police department carried out a public execution of a cowering black man by firing squad. No officer suffered any consequences.

It feels strange not to be out among the people in the streets. This is the first occasion since 1965 when I haven't at least cautiously run in the fringes of what is called "civil unrest." But I'm too old, too slow, and too scared of COVID-19 this time. I don't like this, but it's okay. There are plenty of young people striving to be heard. We don't listen as a society until forced to -- and there are almost always too many casualties when demanding the attention of people whose power can make a difference. Some of what we do is dumb, but that too is part of the long struggle.

Stay safe out there.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

The labor movement should eject police unions

When I saw the video of a police officer strangling George Floyd while his buddies looked on, I thought: "bet Minneapolis has a doozie of a white supremacist police union." I recalled Philando Castile, shot by a cop in 2016 while his girlfriend streamed the encounter on Facebook.

When it came out that Officer Derek Chauvin had been involved in a previous police killing and had collected at least 17 complaints in a two decade career, it seemed to me certain that Minneapolis must have just such a corrupt police union -- the sort that defends its members as if they were soldiers in a war with a hostile public. San Franciscans are all too aware of what that's like. But I didn't know the underlying history.

Nancy LeTourneau does know the history. She points to a Star Tribune account from last year of what happened when Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey tried to implement new training to reduce police violence.

... the union that represents the city’s roughly 900 rank-and-file police officers announced that it is partnering with a national police organization to offer free “warrior-style” training for any officer who wants it.

According to a news release posted to the Law Officer website, the free online training — valued at $55,000 a year — is offered to officers for as long as Frey remains mayor. The training, which covers a range of issues, from “officer survival” and leadership to fitness and de-escalation, was designed to ensure that officers could “return home each day to their family regardless of the dangers that they may face and the ignorance of some politicians,” the release said.

... Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the police union, was undeterred on Wednesday, saying in an interview that he consulted with the union’s attorneys, who said Frey’s directive was unlawful. Kroll also defended the training, saying, “It’s not about killing, it’s about surviving.”

The union teaches cops fear and recoil from Minneapolis citizens. Racism does the rest and George Lloyd is dead.

Police unions too often serve as poisonous enclaves of white bitterness against social changes which decenter white men; racism makes black men prime targets of these empowered guys with guns and grudges. Other people of color, women of all colors, and gender queers can also find themselves on the wrong side of the police gang's war against perceived dangerous civilians.

Kim Kelly, writing in The New Republic, calls out labor movement complicity in this.

Unfortunately, union protection plays no small role in keeping cops like Chauvin ... out on the streets. Collective bargaining agreements for police generally include normal language around wages and benefits but can also act as an unbreachable firewall between the cops and those they have injured. Typically, such contracts are chock full of special protections that are negotiated behind closed doors. Employment contract provisions also insulate police from any meaningful accountability for their actions and rig any processes hearings in their favor; fired cops are able to appeal and win their jobs back, even after the most egregious offenses. ...

Ultimately, police unions protect their own, and the contracts they bargain keep killers, domestic abusers, and white supremacists in positions of deadly power—or provide them with generous pensions should they leave. The only solidarity they show is for their fellow police officers; other workers are mere targets.

So should these organized white supremacist protection rackets be counted as part of organized labor? Most are, as affiliates of the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA). Kelly argues that, if the AFL-CIO is serious about standing up for the actual existing working class of the country, so heavily Black and Latinx, it should kick out the cop unions (and the Border Patrol union as well.)

It’s imperative to take action now. The AFL-CIO has a chance to atone for its past racial transgressions by moving toward a more just, equitable, and intersectional labor movement. Disaffiliating with the IUPA is only a start, but it would be an important step in the right direction. The decision would draw a line in the sand and show the federation’s broader membership that union leaders truly believe that Black lives matter—and that the working class deserves to feel safe and protected in our own communities.

That's a tough ask -- these police unions are politically powerful. But who are they powerful for anyway?

Friday, May 29, 2020

Deja vu all over again

@BrandingBrandi reminds that in 1968, operating under presidential mandate, the Kerner Commission was given the task of explaining civil unrest in the nation's cities.

[THREAD] Rereading the Kerner Report that was released after an exploration of the root causes of civil unrest that had occured in the late 60s. A few things stand out: “Disorder did not erupt as a result of a single ‘triggering’ or ‘precipitating’ incident.”

“Instead it was generated out of an increasingly disturbed social atmostphere, in which typically a series of tension-heightening incidents over a period of weeks or months became linked in the minds of many in the Negro community with a reservoir of underlying grievances...”

“Although specific grievances varied from city to city, at least 12 deeply held grievances can be identified and ranked into three levels of relative intensity...

First level intensity:
1. Police practices
2. Unemployment and underemployment
3. Inadequate housing

Second level intensity:
4. Inadequate education
5. Poor recreation facilities and programs
6. Ineffectiveness of the political structure and grievance mechanisms

Third level intensity:
7. Disrespectful white attitudes
8. Discriminatory administration of justice
9. Inadequacy of federal programs
10. Inadequacy of municipal services
11. Discriminatory consumer and credit practices
12. Inadequate welfare programs”

Like we knew all this in 1968 & NONE of it was remedied. This is why our history travels in a loop instead of line moving towards the beauty of progress. Sending thoughts & visions of a better world to everyone today.

Nothing much has changed for too many. Let us weep, resist, and all seek to break the deadly loop.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Never forget: this was preventable

Back in the day when I worked for a research outfit, I was dazzled by the brilliance of Edward Tufte's volume, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. I still am. Erudite Partner even was enabled by a sympathetic boss to attend the great man's course. Tufte had a rule:

... the fundamental principle of good statistical data: Above all else show the data.

Andrew Van Dam's The unluckiest generation in U.S. history in the today's Washington Post follows Tufte's rule brilliantly and sadly convincingly, illustrated by nine mostly simple charts.

People aged 20 to 40 have been hammered by the coronavirus shutdown. And they bring along far less buffer which might help them to weather the storm. Many have lost jobs and essentially will have to start adult life over -- for the second time, having endured the 2008 recession.
He explains:

After accounting for the present crisis, the average millennial has experienced slower economic growth since entering the workforce than any other generation in U.S. history.

Millennials will bear these economic scars over the rest of their lives, in the form of lower earnings, lower wealth and delayed milestones, such as homeownership.

... Millennials had much less of a financial cushion than previous generations did at their age, Kent said, even though they had been doing many things right. The deck has been stacked against them. They just don’t have as many assets as previous generations did at their age.

The horror of this moment for the largest, most diverse, to my mind most interesting, generation in the country's history is all laid out here. Must reading.
Another Washington Post article, A third of Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, Census Bureau finds amid coronavirus pandemic, tells more of the story, with charts not quite elegant.

Some groups have been hit harder than others. Rates of anxiety and depression were far higher among younger adults, women and the poor. The worse scores in young adults were especially notable, given that the virus has been more likely to kill the elderly or leave them critically ill.

No kidding. What would you expect? My generation has full lives behind us, however fraught our pasts may have been; young people coming up face a very hard future. And they know it. We need to listen to them and learn.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A "Slow Street" in the Mission during shelter-in-place

I've been using our designated street where traffic is mildly discouraged on some morning runs. There are these warning signs on Shotwell between 14th and Cesar Chavez.

There's been talk of adding 20th Street from Valencia to Potrero to the program, but nothing yet.

I can't say that this "slowing" makes much difference. After all, there's an open cross street at each block. Running the full length of the designated stretch requires no less situational awareness than running the bike lanes on Valencia. And I'm slow all the time.

Running at sunrise is what makes this possible, before there is active traffic. Traffic does seem still to be reduced. There's more than a month ago, but still not the full weekday volume of an open San Francisco. And the air remains a little clearer.

But we all chafe at our limitations.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A party with a death wish

That's Latin for "stick a stake in the Republican Party." It seems warranted.

The Orange Tweeter is insisting on his right to infect as many North Carolinians, not to mention fellow Republicans, as he wants. And he's trying to intimidate one of those governors (Democratic as it happens) he's left out on their own to fight the pandemic.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are holding the upcoming Republican National Convention (RNC) hostage to force North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to reopen his state enough to let the event space in Charlotte reach full capacity even during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena,” Trump tweeted on Monday morning.

He demanded that Cooper “immediately” inform GOP convention goers as to whether the event, which is scheduled for August 24 – 27, will be “allowed to be fully occupied” at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.
With any luck, most of those who fall ill for the sake of Trump's big shindig will be his out-of-state GOP fans/delegates. Some of the smarter ones might just absent themselves.
'Reopening' is the ultimate democratic process since we are all voting constantly with our feet. -- Josh Marshall
But there'll be North Carolina waiters and hotel staff and bar tenders and cops risking their lives. And their families.

Monday, May 25, 2020

A time to mourn ...

Writes E.J. Dionne:

Mourning death is an intensely private act that calls for public ritual. Each of us wants to know that others share our love for the person we have lost and that they stand with us in our pain.

The coronavirus does not allow us the public rituals we wish we could perform marking the passing of the 100,000 U.S. dead of COVID or of the 350,000 around the world.

Yesterday the National Council of Churches presented a video memorial service for lives lost. It was very Jesus-centered, more than a little evangelical Black Protestant, multi-lingual, and artful in a good way with violin music and a vocal soloist. Every biblical text you've ever heard at a funeral was included. For an event so clearly organized by a committee, it was powerful. I found myself weeping for a friend who died of cancer several years ago because I knew she would have liked it. If you have a tolerance for this sort of thing, this video is easily as much worth watching as, or alongside, today's tributes to the country's fallen soldiers.

Coughs and sneezes ...

These are World War II-era posters from Great Britain's Ministry of Health. Hard to figure why they seem to think women were likely carriers of infection -- unless perhaps all the men were in the armed services. And snooty women always make unifying targets.

Click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Grocery delivery: both less and more than just a job

Last week we ordered groceries from Costco, delivered by an Instacart "shopper." (I guess that label is better, more accurate, than calling a worker an "associate," but cloying euphemisms about people doing work under arrangements with lousy or no benefits still annoy me.) We've ordered several times since the lockdown. I figured out that I was suspicious of Instacart a couple of years ago, so I feel uneasy about this. I was lucky enough to have been raised in a moment in U.S. history -- the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II -- when even middle class white people thought you did your dirty and dreary work for yourselves. But here we are and ordering groceries if we can afford to has become a public health practice.

So what kind of business is Instacart and the many analogous services? According to the Washington Post, these gig jobs are a booming business.
Instacart, founded in 2012, more than doubled its workforce in two months, thanks in part to Facebook ads with the coronavirus-sensitive slogan “Make money without passengers.” ... In interviews with 20 people who signed up for these jobs since the coronavirus crisis hit two months ago, workers said the barrier to entry was low, requiring little more than a background check, driver’s license and car insurance. But many found a steep learning curve in navigating company policies that shape pay and hours. Nearly all recruits said the availability of work and pay dropped off after a few weeks. ...

... Instacart’s algorithm organizes grocery orders into “batches,” which can include up to three different customers. Workers then select gigs from a Twitter-like feed, which shows earnings per batch in one lump sum, including tips.
So workers are essentially competing with each other, online, for what look like the best "batches." And then what is actually paid can change if some items turn out to be out-of-stock or if the customer changes the percentage of tip after the worker takes on their project. The default tip in the Instacart app is 5 percent of the cost of the groceries. Decent people bump it up; no tip is required from cheapskates. It's not clear what compensation "shoppers" receive beyond the tips -- varies by locality and their costs of doing the work such as gas. Maybe $10 to 15 an hour according to forums. There seems to be no promise of any particular wage from Instacart.

And then workers carry the inherent risk of encountering the coronavirus while in the stores or (less likely) at doors.

Some of Instacart's many new hires during the pandemic are happy with their role. Fox Business found an Instacart enthusiast to interview.
Sarah Hlad has been an Instacart shopper since early April, and already she’s earned almost $3,000.

“The first week I did it, I paid off my whole credit card,” she told FOX Business.

... On an average day, Hlad said she makes between $100 and $120, doing about three to four batches a day.
Ms. Hlad seems to be single, without dependents -- and seems to be doing the gig as a temporary fill-in until the pandemic threat wanes. This might not look so good to workers driven by greater needs.

For some "shoppers," the promise of delivering groceries has turned sour. According to CNET, part of how Instacart has been attracting hundreds of thousands of new workers is by promising sick pay if they catch COVID. But it seems the company seldom -- or maybe never -- honors that promise.
Like hundreds of thousands of other people across the country, Rachel worried she'd contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Her doctor recommended a test for the respiratory illness and told her to quarantine as she waited for the results, which could take a couple of weeks. Unable to work, Rachel sent Instacart a letter from her doctor. She asked for the sick pay that the company said it was offering workers during the pandemic.

"We carefully reviewed the documentation and, unfortunately, we were unable to confirm this claim at this time," Instacart responded 14 days later in an email seen by CNET.  To get approved, the company said Rachel would have to provide either a positive COVID-19 test or get a "mandatory quarantine order by [a] public health agency." A doctor's letter wasn't enough.

Dozens of other Instacart shoppers say they've also had doctor's notes turned down and were told to get a letter from a public health agency, according to advocacy group Gig Workers Collective. They say Instacart's sick leave policy creates a catch-22 because it's nearly impossible to get that documentation. Of the group's 17,000 members who are Instacart shoppers, only one is known to have gotten paid leave.

"Apart from that particular shopper, I don't know of a single other person," said Vanessa Bain, an organizer for Gig Workers Collective. "It's literally designed to keep people from being able to access it."
Some benefit.

And yet -- and yet -- the explosion of gig work delivering groceries during the pandemic also has evoked for some who've taken it on that wonderful experience we all wish existed more often in whatever we do to bring in our necessary sustenance. They are proud and fulfilled to be doing something that seems needed and worthwhile. This lovely video (not about Instacart but one of its analogues) reminds us what "work" might be and can be. Take the time to view. This guy cares.
If only this proud emotion were not so often exploited to turn a profit for others whose motives are entirely to make money for themselves.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

A visualization

That makes for one hell of a Memorial Day.

Here's the deal ...

Those Aussies don't hesitate to tell it like it is.

H/t my friend Ronni's wise blog where she too tells it how it is.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Digital creativity for 2020

There's been an awful lot of Democratic political consultant hand wringing that President Trump's online campaign -- which never stopped working after November 2016 -- was miles ahead of anything that a Democratic candidate could put out there. And then came the virus and effective digital outreach became all that much more vital.

I get it. But I also have suspected that the apparent Democratic disadvantage might turn into new ways of campaigning.

People who've made careers in winning elections can get set in their ways. They tend to think that, with enough polling and focus groups, they can devise the perfect message. Their project then becomes getting the candidate, and the staff, and organizers, and volunteers saying the right things -- and only the right things. This is not completely crazy. Polling said voters were worried that Republicans would take away their health care in 2018 and it was appropriate to remind them. And it seemed to work. But anyone who actually talked with voters heard many other concerns and capable canvassers learned to listen. Listening is good; voters like it.

Meanwhile, consultants get paid for delivering their preferred messages via TV (they get a cut of ad spending) and mail (which they produce for a fee.) I'm not saying their relationship to a candidacy is entirely mercenary, but it can lend itself to formulaic thinking.

Digital messaging that works is something else again. It's imaginative; it's a little anarchic; it's sometimes transgressive. And it most likely is going to happen outside the regular campaign structures. And in this moment, maybe that's what Joe Biden needs, an assault on the Orangeman from 1000 directions. The creative juice is there. Don't try to tell me that people who want decent lives -- want peace, justice, fairness and just to get along -- can't win a culture war.

Take this, for example, created by Kylie Scott on the TikTok platform.

ur doing great sweetie ##antibiotics ##covid19 ##covid ##quarantine ##intheclub ##drunkwords ##trump

♬ original sound - iampeterchao
Not perhaps how I'd deliver the message that we have to depose this dangerous clown who might kill us -- but I'm not the target. The digital artists' role is to deliver their art. The campaign's role is to figure out how to turn people who will look and listen to it -- and who want to express themselves also -- into voters.

The 2020 campaign will likely see unprecedented creativity, because it must. I will try to chronicle the stuff folks come up with as I see it.

Friday cat blogging

Too lovely not to post, despite ongoing mourning for Morty. Yes, that's a cat leash. If such a lovely animal every deigned to live with me, I'd keep it in on a leash too. Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

As alternatives emerge ...

Looks like we're entering the "You Are All on Your Own" phase of how to live with coronavirus risk.

As ever, there's zero effective guidance from the Feds -- Trump has quit even pretending to lead against illness and death, wishfully celebrating a non-existent normalcy.

Many states and cities, including California and San Francisco, have done rather more during the lock-down phase of living with COVID, issuing fairly clear rules and enjoying wide-spread cooperation. But now any unified official guidance is splintering.

“You have 50 different governors doing 50 different things,” said Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of public health at the University of California, Irvine. ...

“Everyone wants us to talk about policy, but in fact personal behavior still matters a lot here,” said Kent Smetters, the faculty director at the Penn Wharton Budget Model.

New York Times

As we try to pick up the threads of our lives, we again face choices.

I think I know the limits for myself: lock-down has not been difficult for me. I've been tiptoeing around the edges of the restrictions, visiting widely spaced areas of this city while Walking San Francisco, running in empty streets at dawn, but avoiding all close contact with other people from outside our household except for grocery shopping. I wear scarves and masks. I can live much like this for a long time. I feel absurdly lucky. One of these days I'll write a post about what I yearn for that's no longer available. But this is okay for now.

But, underlying it all, COVID has made it abundantly clear that I have to think of myself as an elder at 72. In the early days of the shut-down when younger friends checked in on us, we were pleasantly amused. But they were right to do so and we learn to gladly accept it.

I think the next phase is likely to be confusing for a lot of old people. The San Francisco Chronicle took up this topic yesterday.

Those who are 65 years and older account for 80% of coronavirus-related deaths in the United States. That’s not just a matter of hypertension — though the chances of having a comorbidity increase with age.

“Aging itself affects virtually every organ system in our body,” said Laura Carstensen, the founding director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity. “We don’t regulate temperature as well as we get older. Our lungs don’t function quite as well as we get older. They’re considered ‘normal changes’ with age. . . . But normal, by definition, means it happens to virtually all people.”

... Still, a 65-year-old is no more like a 90-year-old than they are a 45-year-old. “If you look at the curve anywhere, the risk is not equally distributed,” [Louise Aronson, a professor of medicine at UCSF] said. “The death rate starts going up in the 50s. It goes up more in the 60s. It gets pretty bad in the 70s. It looks god-awful after 80. So we’re sort of lumping them. But more importantly than that is we’re stripping them of their agency.”

Aronson seems to lean toward the risk-taking end of the curve. She describes an 85 year old friend whose sheltering-in-place behavior sounds a lot like mine: that women has been taking advantage of the early morning hours when streets are empty to go outside.

“The same guidelines,” Aronson said, “the same restrictions should apply to everybody who is a competent adult.”

I think I agree. But I also appreciate that smart research scientists are trying to give us some parameters to help us make the many choices we'll all face in what looks to be another year of pandemic living.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Good news we could easily miss ...

The University of California announced Tuesday that it has fully divested from all fossil fuels, the nation’s largest educational institution to do so as campaigns to fight climate change through investment strategies proliferate at campuses across the country.

The UC milestone capped a five-year effort to move the public research university system’s $126-billion portfolio into more environmentally sustainable investments, such as wind and solar energy. UC officials say their strategy is grounded in concerns about the planet’s future and in what makes financial sense.

“As long-term investors, we believe the university and its stakeholders are much better served by investing in promising opportunities in the alternative energy field rather than gambling on oil and gas,” Richard Sherman, chair of the UC Board of Regents’ investments committee, said in a statement.
The article goes on to discuss quite thoroughly the long history of activism to force public institutions out of thrall to dirty energy giants. Hampshire College, a prestigious though precarious, institution led the way as far back as 2011. Other prestigious universities such as Harvard and Stanford seem on a path to follow. But U.C. is the big fish setting a path for academia.

University divestment signals that our best minds and scientists know that fossil fuels are a dead end. That matters.
Some of these bristlecone pines have survived over 4000 years. We can try to let them live another millennium by preserving the harsh habitat in the White Mountains where they thrive.

RIP Norma McCorvey

We don't get FX, but eventually I do intend to watch this. I had not realized that she was a lesbian. Or understood what she came out of.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Out and about San Francisco

Last week I did something I don't do often. I signed on to an advocacy organization's letter to an official. Walk San Francisco has called out what is all too obvious as our city's shelter-in-place condition wanes: this was a calmer, safer place with 60 percent less traffic. That's not going to last forever, but it seems worthwhile to remember how much we liked it and encourage measures to make extra-vehicular travel as viable as possible.

Vehicle traffic is starting to rise as some restrictions are lifted. And traffic could ultimately far exceed previous levels as fewer people use public transportation, according to a recent Vanderbilt University study. Meanwhile more people than ever are walking and biking to get around, as well as to get exercise.

This means that without immediate action by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, we will soon see a tragic surge in severe and fatal traffic crashes in San Francisco, especially among our most vulnerable. And the City’s Vision Zero goal [for ending pedestrian deaths and injuries] will slip out of sight.

Walking the city's streets is about to become even more fraught than it was before the lockdown. For a while now, I've usually worn a yellow vest when wandering about, hoping to make my pedestrian body more visible to drivers.

Walk San Francisco offers an extensive menu of traffic calming policies that could help.

Meanwhile, Chronicle columnist Heather Knight has come up with a fine idea based the experience of the last two months. Why not keep one lane of the Great Highway along the ocean closed and let it become a broad walkway for runners, skaters, cyclists, and the fellow I saw today practicing with his hockey puck?

... keep the southbound side by the beach the way it is. Call it the Great Walkway.

Meanwhile, I'm still Walking San Francisco -- friend Britta Shoot writes about two women currently crazy enough to be covering the whole city on foot at Hoodline.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Preview of November election hotspots

This turned up in a Texas Dems campaign fundraising pitch. It deserves pondering and internalizing for all of us bent on evicting the Orange catastrophe next fall.
I think I'm glad they are at least claiming to put Texas into the mix of battleground states. It's terribly expensive to contest -- but the electorate there is the country's future.

The states with crosshatches, uniquely, award some of their electoral votes based on which party wins in each Congressional district. Barack Obama picked up one in the most liberal district in Nebraska; we could lose one in northern Maine if the Congressional contest goes badly there.

The states with asterisks are some of the ones with Senate contests. Dems need every Senate seat we can possibly turn. By pundit consensus, the most likely are Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Maine, followed by Georgia, Iowa and Montana. South Carolina, Kansas and Texas are very, very long shots at the Senate level.

Click on the map to enlarge. Not sure where we'll be in the fall, but we'll be working for change somewhere indicated by this map.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Caption contest

Two dim looking men. One Sharpie. What's he up to?

From my clutter: brief items, sadly all COVID related

A terrible warning
The people of this Canadian church thought they were doing everything right -- limiting numbers at a birthday celebration, practicing distancing, washing their hands. It didn't work.

Despite that, 24 of the 41 people at the party ended up infected. Two of them died.

This is a cautionary tale I wouldn't want to live.

Must the 90,000 dead be unmarked?
Micki McElya, a historian of how our society mourns asks why we treat COVID deaths as entirely private griefs.

There have been no political funerals for the pandemic dead. In the absence of official national mourning, we’ve not seen many spontaneous memorials or vigils at all. Instead, plenty of flag-waving demonstrations to end stay-at-home orders and reopen businesses pop up all over the country. We’ve seen American Patriot Rally protesters armed with rifles in the Michigan State House as legislators debated whether to approve the governor’s request to extend the shutdown in that state. We’ve seen pandemic-fatigued New Yorkers rush to parks on the first warm day, barely distanced and some unmasked. But we’ve seen no comparable mass action for the dead.

... China recently observed a National Day of Mourning, and Spain plans to have a period of mourning when its lockdown eases. In the United States, we have not had so much as a collective moment of silence, even as the number of COVID-19 deaths exceeded the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. The American flag still flies high atop the White House. Instead, every reference to the costs of the pandemic seems to refer to individual losses and pain, the private grieving that is now rampant. ... Minneapolis Star Tribune

Obviously the last thing we want are well-attended public gatherings, but we ought to have the ingenuity to offer something unifying in response to 90,000 individual tragedies. And that's despite our lack of leadership ...

California is not really having success at stopping the coronavirus
It's easy, sheltering in place comfortably in San Francisco, to get the impression that the state is really doing quite well. Hardly anyone I know has been infected by the virus; those who have been sick have recovered. Most of us who can have accommodated ourselves to considerably constrained lives of infrequent excursions wearing masks and perhaps some boredom. But Kelsey Piper carefully explains that any impression that we're through the worst of this is simply unfounded. We're going to be living in some version of this for a long time ...

California is in limbo and is making very little progress toward an exit strategy. Case numbers aren’t falling, despite the lockdown. Testing is increasing, but too slowly. The state can’t meet its goals for contact tracing and isolating exposed people. The state’s guidelines for when to reopen look reasonable, but it’s not clear when (or if) they’ll actually be met.

This is bad news. It’s also jarring, because California has more resources, more public cooperation, and in many respects better leadership than most states. If all those advantages have nonetheless left the state with no real path to reopen, it seems as though most states should expect even worse. California’s experience illustrates just how vexing the coronavirus has been to deal with — and just how steep the challenge is for the country as a whole as it inches its way to a reopening that it hasn’t yet earned.

I want this to be wrong, but I find this exposition both informed and convincing. We need to adjust our expectations and hopes to accept a long, precarious siege of ill health, accompanied by awful economic pain. Read it all.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Saturday scenery: masked city

We not only wear masks ourselves around here; our icons wear them. If your cultural competence needs a prompt as much as mine, that's Tony Bennet belting out "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" in front of the Fairmont Hotel.

Most of us believe the science. And many of us would happily inconvenience ourselves to follow where it leads us.
Wearing masks is really important for reducing coronavirus transmission. A study by a team of five researchers out of Hong Kong and several European universities calculates that if 80 percent of a population can be persuaded to don masks, that would cut transmission levels to one-twelfth of what you’d have in a mask-less society. Widespread use of masks is likely part of the reason Japan’s coronavirus outbreak has been mild thus far, and grassroots mobilization starting with masks is almost universally seen as part of the Hong Kong success story.

For the broad population, the key fact is that while wearing a mask does little to protect the wearer from the risk of getting infected, it does a lot to prevent the risk that the wearer spreads the virus to other people. Consequently, an interdisciplinary Yale team featuring biologists, medical doctors, economists, and public health specialists calculates that “the benefits of each additional cloth mask worn by the public are conservatively in the $3,000-$6,000 range due to their impact in slowing the spread of the virus.” And the benefits of professional-grade masks for health care workers may be even higher.

Rogue street artists who have had a field day decorating our boarded up storefronts offer their own cultural commentary. Their ambiguous tribute seems fitting now that masks have become a symbol of partisan division. Trump thinks he might be un-manned by wearing a mask. Not so; he's a pathetic specimen with or without one.

Marni Sweetland photo
I wear a buff when running, pulling it up when I see other runners coming. If the parks remain as crowded as they are now, I'll become used to breathing through it. I wear a mask when Walking San Francisco unless there is no one in sight. I guess I'll be wearing a mask for the next 18 months.

Friday, May 15, 2020

A tale of two turfs

San Francisco continues its foot-dragging failure to improve conditions for its unhoused tent residents crowding the Civic Center and Tenderloin neighborhoods. Mission Local reports:
Although the Tenderloin plan calls for safe sleeping sites “in and outside of the Tenderloin” it did not list any specific locations, but it listed Tenderloin parking lots, sidewalks, and blocked off streets as possible safe sleeping sites.

[Pratibha] Tekkey, the director of community organizing at the Central City SRO Collaborative, said the parking lots listed in the plan, such as the vacant lots at 180 Jones and on Hyde and Turk, are “extremely small” and can only have up to 15 tents to be able to follow social distancing protocols.

“It doesn’t make sense to have 10 tents in each parking lot,” she said. “You’re still not changing what the problem is.”

That is, hundreds of homeless people in a dense neighborhood alongside 25,000 housed residents who also do not feel safe leaving their homes and going to essential businesses during the pandemic, Tekkey said.
Meanwhile in the far southeast of the city, there's this:
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
According to a San Francisco Examiner account, Bayview neighborhood non-profits got tired of waiting for action from the city.
Bayview homeless advocates and nonprofits have set up a tent encampment at Bayview Park in reaction to The City’s slow action to find shelter for the neighborhood’s unhoused residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community organizers from the United Council of Human Services, also known as Mother Brown’s, and Beds 4 Bayview, established the camp in the park near the closed Martin Luther King Jr. pool with 40 tents arranged to allow for social distancing. Encampment residents have access to restroom facilities on site, and are being supplied with water, food, security and other services by the organizations.
It looked like a big improvement on city center conditions or even the doorways on Valencia Street to me. Though of course unhoused people are just as much attached to their accustomed neighborhoods as the rest of us ...

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Who feels welcome on public lands?

Runner and advocate Faith E. Briggs used to run through the streets of Brooklyn every morning. Now, she’s running 150 miles through three U.S. National Monuments ... She's claiming what's ours and therefore hers.

National Monuments say "what do we care about." ... Being a 'public land owner' gives me a huge sense of responsibility.

This is beautiful and makes the trail runner in me totally jealous.

For the record: Trump is a quitter ...

and we, the people, are screwed. Because the administration has not used the two month shelter-in-place period to get a tough testing, tracing, and quarantining program in place, we have both wider spread of deadly COVID-19 infections and a trashed economy. And we are going to live with this until there's a vaccine or perhaps until 70% or so of us catch the murderous virus, resulting in an estimated million-plus deaths. That's what achieving "herd immunity" means. Meanwhile our feckless president burbles on:

... the Trump administration still has no plan for dealing with the global pandemic or its fallout. The president has cast doubt on the need for a vaccine or expanded testing. He has no evident plan for contact tracing. He has no treatment ideas beyond the drug remdesivir, since Trump’s marketing campaign for hydroxychloroquine ended in disaster. And, facing the worst economy since the Great Depression, the White House has no plan for that, either, beyond a quixotic hope that consumer demand will snap back as soon as businesses reopen.

Echoing his breezy language in the earliest days of the pandemic, Trump has in recent days returned to a blithe faith that the disease will simply disappear of its own accord, without a major government response.

“I feel about vaccines like I feel about tests: This is going to go away without a vaccine,” Trump said Friday. “It’s going to go away, and we’re not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time.”

David Graham, The Atlantic

This catastrophe was preventable.

We will live with -- and too many will die on account of -- this lazy, ignorant man in the White House. He can't do the job and he won't get out of the way for people who could because the only thing he values is being the center of attention. He's just a lazy, egotistical quitter.

Image by David Lawrence Hawkins.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Laid off workers support a longer shut down

It was particularly striking in the story of the Chinese American neighborhood which largely escaped infection by coronavirus that workers in the Chinese groceries both pushed to close their stores as COVID spread and understood when it might be safe(r) to reopen.

Maybe our governing authorities should pay attention to what many people who have lost their jobs want from their governments. Seventy-nine percent believe their well-being would be best served by staying locked down.

That’s a remarkable number — and it’s one that suggests these people are taking a longer-term approach to getting back to work than Trump does. It seems they believe the best way to actually get back to work and stay there is to no longer have to deal with the outbreak, which makes complete logical sense. Perhaps they also fear that going back to work could mean their own exposure to the virus, given that many of them come from service industries.

Washington Post poll

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Chinese immigrants knew what to do

Thanks to a tip from TPM, I've learned that some Chinese immigrant communities realized very early on that an infectious virus was on bearing down on us all. Unlike most of us, they brought vivid experience of SARS and other influenza diseases and they had relatives in the old country who conveyed the horror of what was happening in China as soon as that government locked down Wuhan. Streetsblog reports that in hard hit New York City, poor Asian American communities have only a small number of cases of COVID-19.

It was muscle memory — and WeChat.

Asian-Americans, who comprise 14 percent of the city population, have suffered just 7 percent of the COVID-19 deaths, the lowest share, according to state data broken down by race and ethnicity. Additionally, the ZIP codes of Chinatown in Manhattan, 10009 and 10003, have some of the lowest confirmed COVID-19 cases and death rates in the city.

By comparison, whites, who comprise 32 percent of the population, account for 27 percent of the deaths. African-Americans, who are 22 percent of the population, have suffered 28 percent of the deaths. ...

Ann Choi and Josefa Velasquez provide more detail in The City, describing what amounts to a natural experiment that proves that early action in a Chinese community has saved much suffering and many lives. In the borough of Queens, the neighborhoods of Flushing Meadows and Corona Park are located next to each other, the former home to many Chinese immigrants, the latter to a predominantly Latinx population.

Both are high-density areas with similar socioeconomic profiles. They’re linked by the usually crowded No. 7 train.

Nearly half of workers in both neighborhoods are employed in food service, construction, cleaning and transportation — jobs that New York State has deemed essential through the pandemic.

Residents of both places typically have household income below the Queens median and a similar share of people who lack health insurance, as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau. And almost half of apartments and houses in both areas have more than one occupant per room, the Census definition of crowded.

But Chinese immigrants knew what to do about the menace over the horizon.

“I was very aware when the virus first started in China,” said a Flushing nurse, originally from China, who spoke with THE CITY on the condition of anonymity. “I knew we’d be hit hard if America didn’t prepare,” she said.

... By mid-March, Crystal, who did not want her last name published, and her 67-year old mother had already gotten into the habit of wearing masks and gloves whenever they left their Flushing apartment.

They had already stocked up on Lysol and had a disinfectant routine. The pair even purchased alcohol to make their own hand sanitizer.

... Although New York deems grocery stores are essential businesses, allowing them to stay open during the shutdown, Chinese grocery stores in Flushing closed their doors in late March.

Seeing the destruction COVID-19 was wreaking in China, Flushing grocery store managers were already taking precautions by February to protect employees and shoppers by distributing masks at the front of the store or requiring mask wearing, said Peter Tu, the executive director of the Flushing Chinese Business Association.

Stores installed Plexiglass sheets at cash registers to protect workers from aerated germs.

But that wasn’t enough for workers.

“Because the supermarket is so busy, they have to always come in contact with the customer a lot,” Tu said.

“The supermarkets, they don’t want to close. But their employees — they don’t want to work,” said Tu. “So the owner has no choice but to close because people are scared.”

Stores are only now beginning to reopen. It would be hard to find a clearer proof that communication, leadership, and listening to informed workers is likely to be the best way to mitigate galloping spread of infections. Too bad those advantages are so lacking in so much of this country.

I took the photo of the street sweeper that heads this post in San Francisco Chinatown on February 1 while Walking San Francisco. I liked the image, but didn't want to post it because mask wearing has been a negative stereotype for Chinese American communities. Well, I guess that's over ... at least it should be.

Monday, May 11, 2020

What happens when the jobs just go away?

For about six weeks, I've been very gradually reading Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor by Steven Greenhouse. Greenhouse was the labor reporter for the New York Times for 31 years. He knows what he is talking about.

What you get is an extremely well-reported journalistic tour of U.S. labor history including the epic struggles of needle workers, autoworkers, miners and thousands more industrial workers who won a framework of positive union labor law during the Great Depression; capital's successful clawback of hard won worker rights and victories beginning in the Reagan era; the rapid loss of union legitimacy when too much of labor became more a somnolent bureaucratic institution rather than a justice movement in the mid-20th century; and workers' inventive initiatives to find new organizational forms for fairness and empowerment in the last 20 years. Greenhouse has interviewed the people whose lives tell the story and they are all here.

I enjoyed this book and would heartily recommend it as an introductory history of the apparently endless struggle between owners who exploit and their workers who resist, often tenaciously, imaginatively, and bravely.

But as I finished the book I realized -- the economy within which Greenhouse wrote this book is gone.

In the time it took me to read his story, the pandemic and the public health response had obliterated the context in which he wrote. Twenty-five percent or so of people who used to have jobs don't. And even if some of them were called back to their jobs soon, many will be terrified to return, while employers may not be able to operate in the reduced circumstances.

Many of the drivers of an economy based in consumption may not come back for years: mass entertainment, travel, transportation, restaurants, bars, services, much retail ... what-all we don't know, but will find out.

The medical/industrial complex is being turned upside down and throwing off some workers -- nurses, the staffs of small rural hospitals, doctors in private practices -- while major medical centers are reorganized for massive surges of infectious disease.

Corporate management is getting a good look at whether it needs all that office space. Can "knowledge workers" be kept on call online 24/7 in their own residences without being brought physically together?

Can higher education survive without collecting students on campus -- and do students need to interact in person at all? How much can schools charge for online instruction?

States and cities are about to be broke, unable to pay the employees needed deliver what passes for local governance and a safety net.

Garrett Graff carefully explicates all this:

At every turn, the scale of the disaster is almost unfathomable. Forget the Great Recession or the Crash of ’87. It’s easy to imagine a scenario in which, if we escape a crisis “only” on the scale of the Great Depression, we might be lucky.

Where's labor in all this? Delivery workers and grocery clerks -- currently in great demand in hazardous jobs -- have already tried to push back against exploitation and for health protections. They don't consider themselves disposable. Such rebellions aren't going away; can organized labor rise to helping make something more durable out of this kind of desperation?

Trump's attempt to pretend all's well without doing anything via the federal government to mitigate the pandemic looks to be extended to re-animating the economy. That is, he wants to bet re-election on ceasing to make even feeble efforts to shore up workers and small proprietors who are being wiped out. For the GOPers, the play seems to be to force desperate people to risk their lives to prop up corporate profits. Can organized labor find a role protesting such forced work in unsafe workplaces?

Is the pandemic going to lead to Hunger Marches on Washington to be dispersed by troops and tear gas? That's what happened last time things got this bad.

Professor Betsey Stevenson projects a rocky ride even if the economy does regain some kind of footing. She projects that Trump will get some of what Trump wants, an impression that the job statistics are getting better. But the reality will be less sound or happy.

The first few months in which the data show job growth, we’ll simply be learning which jobs were never really lost in the first place. It’s then that we’ll be able to see which industries have shrunk, which businesses reduced their output or shuttered entirely, and which workers need to find new employers or a different kind of work.

... If businesses that open see only a handful of customers return then they will likely conclude that they need fewer employees, ultimately leading to more permanent job destruction.

If, instead, states wait to reopen until they have built better public health plans that inspire more confidence, businesses will likely see a sharper increase in demand when they ultimately reopen.

This is the economic reality we've entered over the last two months. It's not much like any of the contexts in which Steven Greenhouse tells the story of labor. But what runs across his book is that however ignored and suppressed people may be, they will search out new ways to fight for themselves, their families, their communities. They will in this time too.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day

Martha Roberts Sidway, age 11, 1919
In photos later in her long life, she assumed that fixed stare whenever she was aware of the camera. This was how she wanted to be seen -- solid, determined, strong.

As her daughter, I didn't always see her that way. I was frustrated by what I saw as her accommodations to social dictates for feminine behavior that signaled less self-confidence, less self-assertion. These seemed at odds with a tough core.

We came up in different times. I have to give it to her that she seemed to trust that however I was negotiating a way in a very different world, I was all right.

I remember asking whether she had any memory of the influenza epidemic of 1918. She didn't much: perhaps the family had kept the children inside without explanation? Buffalo suffered a major wave of infections that autumn, leading to a month long closure order. It was just one more terrible thing that happened in a world whose horrors she chose not to look away from.

The sailor suit in this picture seems odd. She liked boats and all things naval, including naval officers, but this doesn't seem quite characteristic. Perhaps the photographer supplied children brought for portraits with costumes?

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Saturday scenery: a San Francisco treat

When the peace parade is finished, where to park your missile? It's a conundrum.
Perhaps next to a crumbling greenhouse in San Francisco's Portola district, in the southeastern reaches of the city.

Warmongers past are here.

While the monster du jour occupies the rump of the projectile.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.