Monday, November 30, 2020

A visual improvement

Click to enlarge.
That's more like it. One of the pleasures I'm looking forward to in a post-Trump era is that all government functionaries won't look like indistinguishable white males in white shirts wearing dark suits and expensive ties. Or, occasionally, white women with long blond hair. We're a much more interesting country than that.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Shape shifter

The truth is that, until he became the place holder who could perhaps evict Donald Trump, I'd never put any thought into Joe Biden. He had been just another white, establishment politician who had been around forever, with no particular accomplishments. Balancing the presidential ticket for the Black guy with a funny name didn't exactly seem an accomplishment. Occasionally there'd be rumors he was on the side of the angels about something: opposing prolonging the war in Afghanistan or supporting gay marriage. He seemed quite possibly a nice, decent person with a lot of experience in government. But despite spending several months working to be sure he got elected, I didn't have much of a sense of the guy.

So I spent a pleasant afternoon trying to fill in some of the gaps in my picture of the President-elect by reading New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos's little book, Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now. Because I read the book in audio version, I can't offer quotes, but here are some impressions.

• The young Biden was kind of an ambitious twit. This may have been because he was overcompensating for having grown up with a stutter and then managed to find a perch among other pols with far greater privilege than he'd been raised with. The guy is really not a natural born patrician, and that's rare in the upper reaches of politics. And he didn't seem to much acquire the entitled habits of his surroundings.

• His early family tragedy -- the accident that killed his wife and daughter and left him an unprepared single parent -- evoked sympathy and decency from his Senate peers. Somehow I can't imagine that happening today; maybe I'm wrong. This experience wraps the Senate in a warm nostalgic glow for him, not probably a fantasy he'll be able to preserve now he's in office.

• He apparently believes in democratic political give and take. That is, people with differing views should be able to find compromises that enable government to function for everyone. His politics is less about ideology or interests than about pragmatism. This is an era in which most of us feel the urgent need for something more drastic -- can he satisfy a sustainable majority adequately while offering something less?

• He eventually decided to learn something about something -- and that turned out to be "foreign policy." Can't say his history there is impressive. Since U.S. foreign policy has been and continues to be the arena of establishing, preserving, and managing inescapable decline of empire, this is not a happy expertise. I always suspected that Obama brought an unstated realism to the limits of U.S. power, even if he couldn't admit it publicly. I don't know whether Biden also does, for all his "foreign policy" experience.

• If there's a theme to the Biden story, it's that he's reinvented himself again and again to meet the circumstances in which he found himself. That's easy to say -- but of how many of us is that true? I think it may be quite rare. It's easy to get stuck. My guess is he'll be both better as President -- and worse -- than we expect. At least we won't have to be in a state of chronic rage and terror -- I hope.
The Osnos book is short, graceful, and thoughtful. Recommended. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Forever, forgotten wars

Jeff Schogol hasn't forgotten that U.S. soldiers are still risking their lives in wars around the world. I'll outsource today's post to the long time military correspondent: 

When high school students learn about American history in the decades to come, I wonder if they will spend even one day discussing the Post 9/11 wars and the exceedingly painful lessons that the United States has learned about the limits of its military power. ...

... I’m no historian, but I suspect that if future American history books touch on the Afghanistan and Iraq wars at all, they will be similarly summed up as a “period of readjustment” that spanned multiple generations.

The historical amnesia is already well underway. Afghanistan has been the newest forgotten war for roughly a decade. Every so often, lawmakers remember that U.S. troops are still in combat there even though Congress never declared war. They make a fuss for roughly two hours and then move on to their next cable news standup because members of Congress have the attention span of gnats.

... the reason why it is important that America break with tradition and actually teach its children about the post-World War II period is simple: We continue to make the same mistakes and use the same bogus justifications.

... These days, I swear to myself as I write about the latest troop drawdowns in Afghanistan and Iraq because I know that almost no one cares. It’s as if the past 19 years never happened.

To paraphrase President Abraham Lincoln: The world will little note nor long remember defense officials’ vapid statements about progress in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, but we should never forget that a generation of service members volunteered to go to war, and they kept fighting long after their government had ceased to care about the outcome.

 Who's this guy, Schogol? Here's what explains: 

Jeff Schogol is one of the most beloved faces in the Pentagon press corps. Unless, that is, you're an official behind the lectern in the briefing room and he has a question for you. In his 13 years covering the military, he has reported on military operations in Iraq, Haiti and other locations, and has never shied away from asking the tough questions the public really wants to know. Such as, what will the Space Force anthem be? What's really going on with those  Navy UFO videos? And where the heck is the secret fighter pilot bar in the Pentagon?
There are more diligent journalists plugging away than just at the Times and the Post.

And there are the unfortunate Afghans and Iraqis and Syrians and Somalis who find themselves trying to live in the arenas of our forgotten wars.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Friday cat blogging

Let's give Janeway a rest this week. I met this stalking feline while Walking San Francisco. He's solved the problem of his humans' inexplicable unwillingness to let him go outside by wearing what appears to be a GPS device. He was walking beside a park, so maybe his "backyard" is somewhat safer than much of the city. Certainly he looks confident in his stride.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Covenanted, communal, congregational

I had thought I was done with my personal "1620 project," an effort to learn something about my ancestors who colonized Plymouth, Massachusetts, four hundred years ago. I found accounts of that society incomprehensible from my 20th century vantage point. Knowing I couldn't understand, I was ready to let this effort go.

But I haven't, because the historian of Christianity I trust most, Diarmaid MacCulloch, offered a blurb for a little book about the Plymouth community, promising a new slant on "one of the great founding narratives of American life." This proved true for me; Francis J. Bremer has made the concerns and intentions of those settlers far more accessible in One Small Candle: The Plymouth Puritans and the Beginning of English New England. 

Starting from the first gatherings of the little groups that later became the Plymouth settlement in old England, following them to the Netherlands where they came to fear their idiosyncratic communal religious practice might be interfered with, Bremer outlines the community's evolution as it took off for and survived in a new world. He passes on his understanding of what they cared about, their deepest commitments.

... this book focuses on the religious lives and ideas of the men and women who gathered to pursue a deeper understanding of God’s will ... The story of One Small Candle focuses on a world in which the boundary between the spiritual and the material did not exist. It was a world in which people might feel the direct inspiration of God’s spirit, but also sense the presence of the devil. Rather than dismiss the puritans’ awareness of the supernatural, we need to understand what that experience meant in the lives of men and women in early modern England and New England.
Yes, they seem strange. But in their own time, they also can seem relatively open-minded. Their original leader was one John Robinson whose puritanism seems to have been distinct from the combative Calvinist persuasion that dominated among English reformers in those years, ending in temporary overthrow of the established church, regicide, and the Civil War of 1642-51. Robinson was at one with the more Presbyterian Calvinists in rejecting the authority of bishops and the pope and also what he saw as the false gods of religious images and clerical vestments. But he enjoined on his flock:

... “for things left dark in Scripture, they must be unto us [a] matter of humiliation in our natural blindness, and of more earnest meditation and prayer with all good conscience.” He sought to learn through interaction with other churches and individuals, including those who were not separatist. In Amsterdam and then in Leiden, the members of the congregation came into contact with representatives of various different faiths, including Dutch Reformed, Portuguese Jews, Scandinavian and Dutch Lutherans, and Dutch Mennonites.
Robinson did not in the end join the community's exodus to Massachusetts; in fact, the Plymouth settlement was without any clerical leader recognized in England until 1629. Instead, they took from their faith practice a communal form of both church and state governance.

One of the reasons they were scorned by people of more "orthodox" Christian practice, both from the English state church and more rigid Calvinist puritans, was their affirmation of what they called "prophesying."

Prophesying as such became a critical means by which the laity helped shape the understanding of fellow believers. It could take the form of an individual preaching “by way of prophesying” to a gathered congregation, as many laity would do in England and later in New England, particularly when a Christian group lacked the services of a clergyman. The term was also used to describe sessions in which various members of a religious community meeting privately would share their understanding of an issue before them in a form of inspired dialogue.
There is even evidence that this community was sometimes willing to listen to women in these sessions. They also differed from the more "orthodox" in holding that marriage no business of their church; it was an entirely civil practice. They seem to have had objections to capital punishment for offenses. This all seems more like what some later Quakers professed than our picture of New England puritans and indeed the Plymouth community were slightly suspicious outliers even in relation to the later Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

Alone with each other on the edge of a new world, they extended the form of religious governance they had learned in England to civil governance. In England and the Netherlands, they had formed themselves as a covenanted community, bound to each other by their understanding of how they were to approach God. 

The congregation was a community of individuals committed to following what they perceived as a godly path and forged through a series of hardships in England and on their journey to Leiden. In addition to their espousal of Calvinist theological positions, this entailed upholding a social outlook that demanded that each individual make what sacrifices were necessary for the common good, and “such was the true piety, the humble zeal, and fervent Loue, of this people (while they thus lived together) towards God and his ways, and the singleheartedness and sincere affection one towards another, that they came as near the primitive pattern of the first Churches as any other church of these later times have done.” Indeed, what most offended Robinson and the church leaders was individuals who were “cleaving to themselves and retired from the common good.”
These proved serviceable values in unfamiliar New England. Stubbornness, yes; individualism, no. On landing on the cold beaches of the new world ...
the male passengers signed a document whereby they “solemnly and mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation . . . , and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought mete and convenient for the general good of the colony.”
From these beginnings we inherit both Congregationalist Protestantism and some suggestion of the possibility of a democratic society. There was a lot worse floating around in 1600s Europe.

Bremer provides an approachable account of their belief system and its implications. Other writers are more informative on the attitudes that made them (literally) an invading plague for region's original inhabitants and on their uneasy relationship to both England and Boston.

But since reading Bremer, I can move beyond feeling my ancestors were just repulsive. I'm glad I didn't let go my 1620 project without learning a little more.


My 1620 project: Those Massachusetts Pilgrims
Those Plymouth puritans
Raised up by the wind in colonized Massachusetts
Enslaved people among the godly

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Pandemic Thanksgiving

Martha E. Menendez, Esq. writes in the Nevada Independent:

Nothing has shattered my hope and belief in humanity, particularly in that of my fellow countrymen and women, more than the way we have responded to this disease — and I’m an immigration attorney in the age of Trump so I’ve had plenty to draw from. We somehow turned an existential threat that affects us all, every last human person, into yet another political throwdown. ...

I leave it to greater minds to figure out how we will ever be able to unify our country politically. 

I’m merely imploring you from a human perspective. I am no better than anyone else; I am just as broken as the rest of you after the past four years of hate and division. I’d rather go hungry, for example, than to ever again break bread with many, many, many folks whose worldview I am now painfully aware of and find repulsive. 

But I don’t want them to die. Not a single one of them. Certainly not from this horrible disease. And yet, there are many out there who don’t care if I or their grandma does. All because a mask and some distance is somehow an attack on their God-given liberties. That, friends, is what I cannot reconcile. How do we come back from this? I ask you in earnest. 

In any case, Happy Thanksgiving. May we all make it out alive. 

Meanwhile, health workers still uphold us and their own pride in their professions.

Artist is a Persian comic, Bozorgmehr Hoseinpour. H/t Dr. Jane Jenab

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Job opportunities

Given what we've been hearing about the U.S. Postal Service, this fellow, waving his sign outside the Evans Avenue main San Francisco post office, was a somewhat surprising sight. 

Yes, the USPS is hiring, he told me. And yes, they did send him and about 5 of his coworkers out to jump up and down on a lightly trafficked boulevard. 

They were having a good time and assured me that if I knew anyone who needed a job, this was the moment to get in. Maybe you too can wear reindeer horns and wave a sign that looks like advertising for a used car lot.

All kidding aside, and not perhaps the highest of priorities, if Democrats ever do control Congress, they should reverse the insane privatization scheme that makes the USPS even more precarious than it needs to be. It would be the rural voters who so disdain the Democrats who would benefit most. A public postal service is essential if you live in the country.

Monday, November 23, 2020

To shoot or not to shoot

A photographer who works for the newspaper the Arizona Republic was, in his words, "Rattled." Patrick Breen (@pjbreenphoto) explains: 

Was just accosted while taking photos at a baseball tournament in Mesa. Parents yelled for me to not take pictures of their kid. I agreed and asked which kid was theirs. They didn’t want to say and said if I did they would “kick my ass.”

They yelled I was the fake news, I was taking pictures of little boys and that I was a pedophile. ... I’m shaking. More because I just want people to understand that I’m not their enemy. I love my community. I love telling their story through pictures. Leaving defeated. I didn’t want them to think they shouted me away but more aggressive parents were eyeing me.

So here I am in the parking lot at a public park in Mesa feeling ashamed for doing one of my favorite things in the world- taking pictures. If we all were just a little kinder.

Political passion hijacked by conspiracies is having a sad effect in that Arizona suburb.

As people who read here know, I am working on another project, Walking San Francisco, which takes me through every corner of this city -- with camera.

And consequently, I'm extremely conscious that San Franciscans out and about have a range of reactions to becoming aware that photos are happening -- some hostile, some indifferent, some curious, some delighted. 

I make it a rule not to photograph children except at extreme distance -- I might take shots at a soccer practice, for example, but only from well off the field. The adults with them can get weird. 

I am ready with cards pointing to the project URL for anyone who engages me. I try to always be ready to stop and talk with anyone, friendly or hostile, who wants to know what I'm doing. 

This gregarious gent buzzed by me on a residential sidewalk the other day, spun around, and demanded: "take my picture!" So I did.

A little conversation confirmed my impression: he takes care of his 'hood. In his way. Love this city!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Round 2

MJ.Hiblen: Illustrator - click to enlage

My friend Dr. Jane Jenab called this "Round 2" on Facebook. The medical people taking care of us are close to the breaking point.

In the comments on her post, someone suggested: "I wish that there was also a frontline team of masked community members standing in front of the Medical team .... we need them."

What can we be doing -- besides distancing, masking, hand washing? We are in this together.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Choices leaders make

I am haunted by a photo. 

The location is inside the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau in southern Germany, on the day in 1945 when U.S. troops fought their way inside. They found starving men and corpses all around. A train engine was hitched to 39 boxcars packed with the bodies of some 2000 prisoners. The SS camp guards had meant to hide their crimes, steaming away with the physical evidence. U.S. troops, hardened veterans who had fought their way north from Italy, just lost it.  At one confused moment, some lined SS men up against a wall and began gunning them down.

Their commander, Lt. Colonel Felix Sparks, ordered the Americans to stop shooting, holding up his hand and firing into the air. Confronted with horror, he demanded discipline.

Subsequently, Dachau became the site of the first postwar war crimes tribunal which set the legal precedents and patterns for the subsequent Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders. Sparks' intervention in the midst of natural human reaction to atrocity created the context for that legal process to be invented. Some number of Germans were killed, but Sparks would not allow his men to unleash their appropriate passions.


Under the Trump presidency, it has repeatedly felt as if rightful order -- the rule of law, simple decency -- depended on a fragile bulwark provided by career professionals whose conception of doing their job impeded the Leader's autocratic aspirations. Most recently I pointed to the security professionals working to ensure we could have an undamaged election; one of these, Christopher Krebs, has since paid the price of doing his duty, getting fired by tweet for his honesty.

At Dachau, Lt. Colonel Sparks' adherence to his professional code interrupted what could have been mass vengeance. His soldiers' reaction to the vile house of horror they had liberated feels utterly understandable. Sparks stood apart. How does that happen?

His commanding officers certainly preferred that the troops maintain good discipline, if only because the alternative -- massacre responding to massacre -- would have led to lengthy inquiries. But somehow the leaders of the time, civilian and military, had inculcated a sense that their armies were fighting for higher purposes than necessity and survival. Even in the midst of death and destruction, many of these men believed their sacrifice was not only for their buddies and to get back to their families, but also for democracy, decency, humanity.


It was empire up against other peoples' aspirations -- and Vietnam in particular -- that shattered that belief structure, I think. It had value, even if always partially delusional. Once broken, it became almost impossibly hard to reestablish, though the contemporary US military has tried pretty hard. No wonder Donald Trump had to pardon the war criminal SEAL Eddie Gallagher.


I've written about Dachau before when I was surprised to discover an uncle had been a figure in that story.

Apparently Netflix has issued a new documentary about Felix Sparks' unit. I won't be watching it because I don't watch war films. H/t to an interview in Task and Purpose for introducing me to the photo.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Friday cat blogging

You wouldn't want her to get hold of you while stretching. Fortunately, Janeway allows clipping of claws. She's still a kitten and doesn't know much about cause and effect, which can lead to bloody holes in humans inflicted without intent. And screeching.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Big changes, huge human migrations

The intrinsic defect of predictions about the future is that they haven't happened -- yet. They are a kind of guesswork, sometimes informed, sometimes offbase, all subject to unexpected variables. I give more credit to projections about the implications of climate change than I do to most predictions just because the forces involved are so large, so beyond the puny scale we apprehend in daily life, that we may be less likely to completely misread them.

And so, here's a short prediction for what escalating climate change will mean, mostly right here in this highly fortunate country.

It's a lot more interesting than the teaser on the screen might suggest. Maybe within a few years, the seemingly invariant electoral map will look very different. Most certainly, vulnerable people will be hurt most if the climate evolves as this projects.

H/t Juan Cole.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Coronavirus winter

Hard to know whether this German ad with subtitles will appeal to anyone under 50ish ... it's meant to, but I'm not sure it does. Certainly less so here than in a possibly more socially cohesive society. 

Kudos to the German public health authorities for delivering the word about best practices for surviving the coronavirus with a sense of humor.

So what the hell happened in the election?

It will surprise no one that I have opinions, for what they are worth -- not much. I've read dozens of takes on why pre-election polls overestimated Joe Biden's margins in many states by 8-10 points -- plus why they failed to catch that in states Trump carried, Democratic Senate candidates couldn't bring the election home. 

As a smart friend said: "The narrative that pops up right after seems to take on a life of its own." So true. Heck, all of us on the west coast have been through a collective experience of this during both 2018 and 2020. Because of which races are called early in an election evening, it did not become apparent that 2018 was a wildly successful "blue wave" until after the east coast had gone to bed; it took several days for the punditry to catch up to the reality of Democratic success. In 2020, because Florida was called early and strongly for Trump, the evening of November 3 felt as if we were repeating the horror of 2016 -- until Fox News called Arizona for Biden. This call probably was a stretch at the time, but it has held up and it reassured me then. By morning, a more Democratic pattern had emerged. 

If you live on the west coast, you have to get used to this.

Then there are exit polls. It's always worth taking exit polls with a pound of salt. If you'd been waiting in line for hours to vote, would you talk with some kid with a clip board? Probably only if you were a highly engaged voter. This year, when we're avoiding close contact with each other and when more than half of us voted by mail anyway, exit polls seem obviously suspect.

I do think there is something to David Shor's conclusion that people who have "low social trust" aren't talking to pollsters -- and that means there were plenty of infrequent and non-voters, usually "white working class" ones, whose intentions would seldom be captured in a poll. Because I've actually worked on too many elections, I've talked with lots of these people. An experienced canvasser learns to discern the difference between "I'm not going to tell you who I'm for," "I'm for your guy, I guess ...," "I'm just shining you on because it's fun to talk to some poor schmuck," and "get out of here before I set my dog on you." Any of them may be open to voting in your direction -- or, more likely at that moment, none may be. You keep working to bring in the possibles, and give the impossible ones a wide berth.

I also think Shor is correct that "Voters are now determining their opinions about parties in a unified way and not reading about individual local candidates." The internet and the sheer tedium of the permanent campaign does that. I don't think most voters have a glimmer about what policies they are voting for when they choose candidates. This is hard for Democrats because on many "issues" like gun control and health care, polls show most of the electorate on our side. But mostly voters just gravitate toward the brand that feels congenial. I do think there is power in a good messenger offering hope as well as fear. But we have to recognize that the GOPers sure do well with the latter. It might be hard for lefties to see, but there were a lot of people for whom Biden was a messenger of hope.

Finally, my preferred take on what happened on November 3 comes from Marcos Moulitas, that's kos, the founder of the Democratic site, Daily Kos. He writes as an elections warrior more than as a data guy, and this rings true to me:

The reason the polls were off: the Hidden Deplorable  
The polls were off in 2016.
The polls were right in 2018.
The polls were off in 2020.
The difference? Donald Trump.
In 2016 and 2020, Republicans overperformed the polling, primarily by turnout of more people than any models expected. This is particularly striking in 2020 given that Democratic turnout was also bonkers. It didn’t matter. There’s legitimately a hidden deplorable vote for Trump, one that only has turned out when Trump himself is on the ballot.

If kos is right, perhaps the "deplorable vote" -- potential voters uniquely motivated to tear it all down behind their cult leader -- doesn't turn out in Georgia in the Senate run-offs set for January 5. Meanwhile, Jon Ossoff, Rev. Rafael Warnock, and Stacey Abrams are sure going to work to win these races to go along with the Biden-Harris victory.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Praying for Nicaraguans under the storm

This hurricane, like the last, is crashing through the Atlantic coast of that suffering country -- and on into the rest of Central America. Nicaragua is thought to be responsible for .2 percent of global carbon emissions, but currently is on the wrong end of a less and less stable climate.

An unpopular political position

I came up in a political generation very much in accord with the balladeer Phil Ochs' biting Love Me, I'm a Liberal. If you've forgotten these lyrics or never known them, they remain worth a look, though some of the topical references may have become obscure. Ochs asserted and we believed:
In every American community, you have varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals. An outspoken group on many subjects. 10 degrees to the left of center in good times, 10 degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally.
New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik's A Thousand Small Sanities: the Moral Adventure of Liberalism is an elegantly written, both gentle and genteel, assertion that liberalism is the ground which underlies whatever progress human societies have made toward justice and equity in the last couple of centuries. He knows his definition of his subject is awkward and heavily qualified, but it seems only fair to quote it in full:
Liberalism is an evolving political practice that makes the case for the necessity and possibility of (imperfectly) egalitarian social reform and ever greater (if not absolute) tolerance of human difference through reasoned and (mostly) unimpeded conversation, demonstration, and debate.
Easier to understand and identify with, perhaps, is this:
“liberalism believes in the imperfectability of mankind. It is a perpetual program of reform intended to alleviate the cruelty that we see around us.”
The book's conceit is that Gopnik is trying to explain to his "woke" daughter why she should consider that liberalism has something to say about the human travails she sees around her. One chapter refutes the right's complaints about liberals' disdain for the wisdom of tradition; another takes on the left's revulsion at liberalism's timidity and half-measures.

The result is a series of aphoristic assertions, many attractive, all begging for more thought. For example:

  • Liberalism isn’t a political theory applied to life. It’s what we know about life applied to a political theory.
  • amendments are among the proper nouns of liberalism ...
  • for liberals coalition and compromise are fighting words, devices to battle by ...
  • Being a liberal means being perpetually engaged in a two-front war ...
  • Tradition is a very mixed bag of nice things and nasty things ... [liberalism tries to] fix the nasty ones while making the nice ones available to more people ...

I can't say that Gopnik convinces me to adopt an identification with liberalism. Political experience has made me something of an incrementalist -- and very, very practical. I believe we are always struggling for the long term -- with very limited vision of where we are going and what it might take to get there. There are always unanticipated byways and obstacles. Kindness and tolerance are necessary -- but not enough. Both courage and some ruthlessness are valuable in political struggle. Maybe I should call myself a democratic (small "d") pragmatist.

This book acted on me not so much as a prose argument but as an imaginative invocation of some possibilities. It's short, easy to read, and I think many readers might find it thought provoking -- or possibly just infuriating.

Sunday, November 15, 2020


We're wearing out the people on whom we depend to keep us well and heal us. Health-care workers can’t go on like this.

Out of respect for these workers, here's a thread from an ER nurse, @Jody Doering: 

I have a night off from the hospital. As I’m on my couch with my dog I can’t help but think of the Covid patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who still don’t believe the virus is real. The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine and that Joe Biden is going to ruin the USA. 
All while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm. They tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that “stuff” because they don’t have COVID because it’s not real. Yes. This really happens. 
And I can’t stop thinking about it. These people really think this isn’t going to happen to them. And then they stop yelling at you when they get intubated. 
It’s like a fucking horror movie that never ends. There’s no credits that roll. You just go back and do it all over again.

 Which is what I will do for the next three nights. But tonight. It’s me and Cliff and Oreo ice cream. And how ironic I have on my “home” hoodie. 

The South Dakota I love seems far away right now. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020


As this Mexican cartoon demonstrates, this is not the moment for "Long time -- no see!" visits. Mexico is currently approaching one million diagnosed COVID cases and 100,000 deaths. Mexico City, unsurprisingly, leads the tally.

North of the widely infected U.S. Dakotas, a Canadian agricultural journal warns farmers not to take COVID risks. Canada is approaching 300,000 cases and has seen more than 10,000 deaths.

As of this morning, the United States has had 10.8 million reported cases and 244,000 deaths.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Moral injury

I found myself surprisingly moved to read this deadpan description of one of the  president-elect's courtesy calls, by way of Heather Cox Richardson

Among the phone calls Biden has had with world leaders was one today with Pope Francis. According to the call readout, the pope offered Biden blessings and congratulations; Biden thanked the pope for promoting the common bonds of humanity and said he hoped to work together on issues that touched on their shared belief “in the dignity and equality of all humankind.” He singled out “caring for the marginalized and the poor, addressing the crisis of climate change, and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities"—all areas in which the pope has called on global leaders to take action, and on which the Biden administration’s policies are expected to differ from its predecessor’s.

Not only has Donald Trump neglected his presidential responsibility to respond to the threat to our lives posed by the virus. He has also outraged whatever instinct we may have toward common humanity in precisely the three arenas that Biden raised with the pope.

It's not just that Trump is a childish, self-centered boor. He has worked to rip apart human solidarity wherever it might exist, a tack which always injures the most vulnerable people first and most.

The practical necessity of deposing this monster has required focusing on the mechanics of elections. And so many of us did.

But should Joe Biden complete the process of reviving a somewhat functional federal government, many of us are still going to need healing from four years of moral assault. There are plenty of material wounds, but we have also suffered invisible, but all-too-real, wounds to whatever compass lives within us.

Friday cat blogging

There are two humans in the house now. Erudite Partner is back from the electoral wars in Reno. Janeway seemed a bit disoriented by this development. For a while, she retreated to the loft bed above E.P.'s office. But within twenty-four hours, she adjusted to the change: two humans who will play with her and provide laps on occasion.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Biden's victory seen around the world

Mary Fitzgerald from the global media organization Open Democracy summarizes some elements of an internationalist view. 

Follow the link for some African, Latin American, Middle Eastern and British observations.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Veterans Day

U.S. Naval Commander, James Kent Averill, was declared "Missing in Action" during World War II when his plane crashed into the water after being catapulted from a ship in the Pacific on March 26, 1944, according to War Department records. The Naval aviator's body was not found. 

He was my uncle, the husband of my mother's sister. No, I wasn't around yet.

That generation lived a national unity of purpose which none of us who are younger have experienced. Korea was horrible, but Vietnam completely broke the spell. 9/11 might have restored it, if it hadn't been for Iraq, and Afghanistan, and so on, apparently forever ...

Many who join the contemporary U.S. military seem to enter for ethically honorable motives: love of country, desire to be part of something larger and meaningful, finding a structured purpose in a society that seems aimless. Some seem to find a life they can be proud of; others find disillusionment and disorientation. And some, of course, are just looking for a job with benefits. Too many find mediocre or just bad leadership. 

It's certainly true that we civilians don't quite grok the vets among us. They get a "day" -- actually the anniversary of the end of World War I (at least in western Europe.) No more wars seems worth working for.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Why the Black vote is different

The polling postmortems of 2020 are going to be long and tough. At this early moment, pollsters seem to be suggesting that Donald Trump has successfully trained or deepened the instinct among his most rabid (largely white and rural) base not to answer the telephone. Well, maybe. If so, and this habit endures, not only will journalistic polling be left in the dark, but also internal campaign polling on which candidates make decisions about resources.

Then there's the polling of non-white citizens. We are nowhere close to understanding the behavior of the various segments of the Latinx electorate; we should wait for more depth of analysis. I've been attending to Latinx polling since 1994 and all I know is that polling among Latinx communities ALWAYS stinks. And it doesn't seem to improve much.

What I want to do here is pass along a very clear, insightful, Twitter thread from Nicole Hannah-Jones (Ida Bae Wells @nhannahjones) which explains to journalists how to think about Black voting patterns. Hannah-Jones is the prime mover behind the New York Times 1619 Project, that magisterial exploration of how Black USA came to be. She's got a lot to say:

Again we see how expertise in race, racism, racial history is an essential but underdeveloped journalistic skill. That Latinos, Asian & white votes are split is NOT surprising. It is the uniformity of the Black vote that is exceptional & it stems from a singular racial experience.

Black Americans, because of a history of chattel slavery and racial apartheid, have been forced into a monolithic vote even as they hold diverse political views. That's [because] every aspect of Black Americans' lives was legally and socially constrained by their designation as Black.

A Black doctor, a Black immigrant, a Black Northerner, a Black evangelical all were barred from schools, jobs, housing, libraries, parks, voting, by law, by custom, by policy. Their individual attributes were literally irrelevant. Their citizenship and rights always contested.

This was true until a half century ago! I am part of the first generation of Black Americans in the history of this country for whom it was not illegal to deny me marriage rights, housing, education and employment simply because my ancestors had once been enslaved.

Thus, Black Americans have a shared history and shared racial experience that is singular in its uniformity, and Black Americans have always had to vote their civil and human rights over any other concerns or political issues. That is a different experience from other groups.

We tend to cover elections, our country overall, as if every group who is not white experiences racism, racial inequality and race the same, but there is a distinct experience of being the people on which the established racial hierarchy was built. We need more sophistication here.
Yes, please.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Can an activist have druthers?

The Times queried a sample of individual voters:

... [what were] their hopes for the country — whatever the outcome of the election. What did they want for America?
This isn't the sort of thing I tend to think about. Experience and education have given me the opportunity to think more granularly about both policy directions that appear desirable to me and about the twisted trade-offs that advancing toward any of them might entail. So I write about that stuff.

But what would I hope for in a new presidency? I'll restrict myself to two:

  • One: that the necessary popular mobilization that so many of us learned we must take part in during the Trump regime/GOPer remains alive in some form -- or in many forms. My greatest disappointment with the Obama presidency was that after the first Black man won the big job, he allowed all the energy which had been Organizing for America to be drained off into busy work, such as public service projects to mark the MLK holiday. It was pretty clear even before the inauguration that his crew didn't want the awakened tiger to stay around. And our hopes crashed along with the organized energy. I don't think we're as dependent on Biden for leadership in this as we were on Obama, though the money may dry up.

  • Two: I hope to regain some feeling that this troubled land is once again in forward motion, is grappling with the inescapable requirements of our history and reality. You can't duck this stuff and live. The Trump regime felt as if a country limping toward a better, if imperfect, future had slammed into a wall. (There's that ur-Trumpian wall theme again.) The needs for forward motion are so many: for climate sustainability, for more racial justice, for a more equitable economy, for more gender equality, for more democracy, for less militarized empire. We aren't going to get to any of them (will, maybe, involuntarily, that last). But the country more or less works when we are trying. 

Sunday, November 08, 2020

The irrepressible demos fights back

For the moment, democracy seems to have squeaked through in the United States. We're still the contradictory mess we've always been, but for the time being, we haven't completely given up on following our better angels.

Meanwhile, the good people of rest of the world have been fighting their own battles for democracy on their own terms. This post is just a short catalogue of struggles and events I might have been caught up in observing and applauding if I hadn't been so busy over the last three months trying to keep the good ship USA afloat.

  • In the former Soviet republic of Belarus, last August a longtime autocrat thought he could pull his usual trick of jailing his opponents and stealing a phony election. Who knew that in this deeply patriarchal society, the wives of the jailed leaders would fight back and protesters would fill the streets for weeks, facing down violent repression? Some in Belarus are still marching and much of the world, aside from Putin's Russia, has still not recognized the legitimacy of the dictator's hold on power. Just yesterday, the European Union sanctioned the dictator and his family. 
  • Chileans voted in October to replace the constitution they'd inherited from their deposed dictator, the noxious General Pinochet. Nearly eighty percent of voters opted for bold changes including requiring 50 percent of the delegates to a constitutional convention to be women. Wow!
  • In Bolivia, it looked as if the indigenous, peasant insurgency against oligarchic rule signaled by the Evo Morales' election in 2006 had run its course. But a new election showed it was just Evo personally who had run his course. Fifty-five percent of the country voted in a free and fair election for Luis Arce, the nominee of Morales's MAS party, opting to continue on the country's egalitarian trajectory.
  • Poland is another post-Soviet society which has seemed to be sinking into illiberalism. But as autocracy and a reactionary version of Catholicism strengthened their hold, last week there were massive protests against tightening of laws restricting abortion. The scale of protest is apparently reminiscent of the heady day when Poles rose up against Soviet domination. A younger generation has something to say.
  • Nigerians too have had too much of a rogue paramilitary police unit, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). The unit specializes in unchecked torture, extrajudicial killings, extortion and rape. Nigerian lives matter. Perhaps most improbably of all in this deeply homophobic nation, the #EndSARS movement has incorporated LGBT Nigerians!

The struggle for justice and freedom is never definitively won -- but the autocrats sure find the impulse hard to erase.

Saturday, November 07, 2020


Four years ago, in the moment of horror that was Trump's election, Leonard Cohen was the poet for the moment. He is today as well.

The struggle is never complete, but it needn't be a downward spiral. It's still up to us all.

A memorial to the 223,000+ dead

One consequence of working on an election is that you miss things you would have wanted to know about in real time. If you too missed seeing this art installation in Washington, DC last week, take a look.

And be glad we're about to have a president, a prerequisite to ending this mortality -- sometime.

Friday, November 06, 2020

Finishing strong

Spent Thursday phoning to chase ballots for Biden in Nevada that need to be "cured." The voter had made a mistake on their legal mail-in ballots, often by providing an unrecognizable signature. State law allows them to prove their identity for more than a week after the vote is disallowed; we're finding the voters and sending them off to the county registrars. Many are young and/or Spanish speakers. Biden may not need these votes to surmount Trump's Nevada total--but just in case, we are leaving no vote unlocated!

When this is well and truly over -- YIPPEE! -- I will sleep.

Friday cat blogging

Janeway enjoys watching the world go by from the platform above her cat tree.

She rolled over to welcome me.

I proved boring. Big yawn.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

#Protectthevote. It's worth it.

Too tired to analyze this morning. Still phoning to cure screwed up Dem ballots in Nevada and boost turnout for peaceful #ProtecttheVote rally in Philadelphia this Saturday.

But others have plenty to say. Here are a few takes you might have seen and some you might not have encountered, concluding with thoughts from Erudite Partner.

I'm not thrilled by this one, but I think it might be true. That democracy thing we claim to defend sometimes reveals its own wisdom:

To the credit of Democratic primary voters, they picked perhaps the one candidate who could patch together an electoral majority. To the credit of staffers on the Biden team, they knew what their task was and they executed it. ... if the country wanted someone who would beat Trump and heal the country, it picked the right guy. Jennifer Rubin

A wise Texan, FaceBook friend Katie Sherrod, reminds us of some home truths: 

If Biden wins, it's a political victory. but it's not a moral one. We have failed this moral test as a nation. WE created Trump, out of the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that's been in our national DNA from our founding. Our double helix strands are woven from genocide, white supremacy, patriarchal entitlement, misogyny, racism, sexism, and free floating fear and hate of the "other."

So while I am deeply dismayed by this election, I am not surprised by it. So much for the shining city on a hill.

More like some hamlet on a landfill.

But the four year process of resisting Trump and the GOP, including working the election, has been empowering for many. Who knows where that energy might lead? Here's another FaceBook friend, Jason Negrón-Gonzales, who sees promise.

It's not the victory that I wanted, I'm sure you feel the same. It's clear that there is a lot of work to do - which would have been true regardless, but has been made abundantly clear yet again. But, the experience on the knocking doors in Arizona, and seeing that translate into the results we saw there gives me a lot of hope. It really underscored for me how critical the organizing on the ground is - there is hope and potential there.

Rayne, a survivor of many struggles, who writes at Emptywheel, is tired of what she sees as progressive whining:

The American left — or at least those comfortable voting for and identifying with members of the Democratic Party — is in the throes of their predictable mortification, self-flagellating atop their hair shirts.Why wasn’t the massive turnout an obvious and immediate repudiation of the deeply racist and misogynist Trump? Why weren’t the numbers evidence of a blue tsunami in spite of the massive push for increased voter participation?

... We need to snap the fuck out of it. We didn’t get our heads on straight going into the count last night, and we weren’t ready for Trump’s fascist bullshit lie claiming victory.

We are winning the White House. We are going to take back the entire executive branch, including new cabinet members who aren’t wholly corrupt motherfuckers (Jesus, Wilbur Ross is still serving on the board of a Chinese bank even though he’s been called out in the media about it).
We’re going to have a new attorney general and a civil rights division which will do more than sit on its thumbs and spin. 
Investigations which have been corruptly shuttered or squelched before they could launch will begin. 
We might stand a chance at making traction against climate change; we might even rejoin the Paris Agreement from which the U.S. formally withdrew yesterday. ...

Erudite Partner, who busted her butt to turn Nevada blue, waxes philosophical:

My favorite scene in Gillo Pontecorvo's classic 1966 film The Battle of Algiers takes place at night on a rooftop in the Arab quarter of that city. Ali La Pointe, a passionate recruit to the cause of the National Liberation Front (NLF), which is fighting to throw the French colonizers out of Algeria, is speaking with Ben M'Hidi, a high-ranking NLF official. Ali is unhappy that the movement has called a general strike in order to demonstrate its power and reach to the United Nations. He resents the seven-day restriction on the use of firearms. "Acts of violence don't win wars," Ben M'Hidi tells Ali. "Finally, the people themselves must act."

For the last four years, Donald Trump has made war on the people of this country and indeed on the people of the entire world. He's attacked so many of us, from immigrant children at the U.S. border to anyone who tries to breathe in the fire-choked states of California, Oregon, Washington, and most recently Colorado. He's allowed those 230,000 Americans to die in a pandemic that could have been controlled and thrown millions into poverty, to mention just a few of his "war" crimes. Finally, the people themselves must act.

On that darkened rooftop in an eerie silence, Ben M'Hidi continues his conversation with La Pointe. "You know, Ali," he says. "It's hard enough to start a revolution, even harder to sustain it, and hardest of all to win it." He pauses, then continues, "But it's only afterwards, once we've won, that the real difficulties begin. In short, there is still much to do."

Yes, there is still much to do.

Wednesday, November 04, 2020

We didn't lose. We have not yet won.

Two weeks ago, organized labor began sharing this graphic with its organizers and leaders:

As always on this blog, click to enlarge.

And so, with votes cast, but not yet counted, here we are.

The coalition of people and forces behind replacing Donald Trump with "any sane adult," ie. Joe Biden and the Dems, created the highest turnout election and some of the widest mobilization this country has seen in 100 years.

And all parts of that uncomfortably wide democratic (small "d") coalition have to stay the course and bring our majority home.

I'm sticking with the union, UniteHERE. You can too by signing up to help cure ballots and stay mobilized this week. 

Have you found your role in Democracy Coalition yet?

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

So Election Day has finally arrived. Whew!

It's been a long four years and it would be folly to feel it's "over." The struggle for kindness, for justice, for freedom, for balance and equilibrium, never ends. It just mutates.

Meanwhile the animals on my Mission district street implore the humans to do their duty.

Probably most people around here have already done the deed. 

For me, Election Day means another 7 hours on the phones. Democracy is what we the people make it.

Monday, November 02, 2020

An appreciation of Ronni Bennett

Ronni Bennett, who blogged insightfully and gracefully at TimeGoesBy, for the last 15 years, left us last Friday.

I think of Ronni as my "mentor in aging." Her blog's sub-title is "what it is really like to get old" -- and she didn't pull any punches.

She loathed most "experts" who wrote books on aging, especially ones who looked youngish to her. She had no tolerance for language that trivialized and erased the realities of age.
As I have explained here many times in the past, I made a deliberate decision when I began this blog a decade ago to never use old-age euphemisms - those cutesy-poo names like golden-ager, third-ager and oldster along with the offensive ones such as coot and biddy. 
For similar reasons, I also avoid senior, senior citizen and mature because they are meant to hide the idea of old age.
Instead, my references would be straight forward – old and older, as grammar requires - and a push to reclaim elder beyond its too-limited usage for church and tribal persons of age. 
As I regularly try to remind you, dear readers, there is nothing wrong with being old but you wouldn't know that from even some elders themselves ...
Ronni knew elders. She built a vibrant community among hundreds of aging readers who exchanged smart commentary and "living while aging" tips. We extended our own friendships across her network. Ronni had a gift for making friends, while remaining also a very private person. Some of us were lucky enough to have met her in real life; many felt they knew her -- and her cat Ollie, sadly deceased, and her ex-husband Alex, with whom she recorded conversations -- intimately.

Three years ago she received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, a condition that usually kills those it seizes upon in months, not years. She survived and recovered from major surgery and vowed to keep on with what made her feel whole:

What I realize now is that I like my little life just as it is. No bucket list. No great unfinished tasks to rush to complete. Just to continue what I have been doing these past few years: 
• Keep up this blog for as long as I can or want (my work)
• Spend time with the people who mean the most to me (my pleasure)
• And, do what I have always done when new and interesting things turn up in my life: find out what others know about them, observe and learn (my satisfaction) 
In this case, what most engages me for the moment is the question of what living is like when you know you will soon die.
And so she shared what she was learning from being now a person who knew she was dying -- insights few of us can bear until death comes close. Despite her increasing disabilities, she kept her will to live for a long time. This September, she chronicled her own changes:
I gave up making my bed a few months ago and as of this week, I have hired a cleaning service because it is no longer a matter of taking three rest periods to change the bed; it's that I cannot do it at all. Nor can I push the vacuum cleaner anymore.
Taking out the trash is hard too. It's amazing how heavy those under-the-counter kitchen bags can get so I've taught myself to fill them only halfway before taking them out. Now I have taken to putting them in the car, which is closer to my apartment, and drive the 100 feet to the trash and recycling bins. ... 
Another thing I didn't know in my mid-years is how strongly life insists on coursing through a body even as damaged as mine is now. A night's sleep (when I can get it) coupled with coffee and the nebulizer puts things right for a few hours and once again, I cannot imagine not being here.
And there were unexpected pleasures in what this fiercely independent woman discovered as her strength declined:
How acutely sensitive I have grown over the past two-and-a-half years to the splendor of our home in the cosmos, our big blue marble of a planet. 
The perfection of every flower. Of every animal. Of the sun. The rain. The wind. All know exactly who and what they are and I weep with joy at the magnificence of their life, along with despair for their future.
She was a completely secular, resolutely practical, person -- not in her own words "about to go woo-woo" even while facing death.

When she took advantage of Oregon's death with dignity law to obtain drugs that would end her suffering if she wished, she shared a photo of the bottles -- and a lament that their cost might be too much for poorer sufferers who also wished for them. 

She was a deliciously funny observer of human foibles. Her second to last post was a hilarious exploration of what it is really like to have to acquire adult diapers.

She despised Donald Trump and all his works. An Oregonian, she voted safely and securely by mail last month. She'd long known her time was short. Last June she gave us our directions for this terrible, momentous election:

Do me a favor, please. If I'm not here on 3 November, have a celebratory drink for me. Or a bit of cry if that is what is called for instead.

 This I will do. 

Ronni knew when enough was enough. I will miss her terribly.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Joe Biden has aged well ...

Steven Waldman sums up one of Joe Biden's secret weapons: 

If Biden wins, it will be in part because he did better among seniors than Hillary did. Now being old doesn’t mean you’ll win over older voters. It doesn’t work that way. But something special happened this year. Trump made Biden’s cognitive decline a key issue in the campaign, implying that he’s senile.
Here’s the reality that neither side has been willing to say: yes, of course, Biden has declined cognitively. He’s seventy-frickin’-seven! But that’s not the same as being senile.  Biden has shown that as we age, what we will lose cognitively may be more than made up for by the improvement of other traits — patience, wisdom, forgiveness, steadfastness. Biden is a poster child for old men. Of course, the bigger reason Biden is winning over seniors probably is COVID, but I do wonder whether there are elderly voters out there who resent Trump’s conflation of being old with being useless. 
... to be sure, being old would not have worked the same way with other candidates. Seventy-one-year old Elizabeth Warren, for instance, would always have been perceived as too woke rather than insufficiently awake. And if Biden loses, we’ll find plenty of age-related reasons. But for now, it seems that Biden has aged well. And — to use a phrase that was once seemed terrifying and now seems adorable – that’s no malarkey.

My tribe is stepping up? 

• • •

I spent Saturday morning phoning "low propensity" voters in Florida in support of Joe Biden. That means people who sometimes vote -- and sometimes don't get around to it. In Florida, a lot of them are elders. We had talked with most of them previously, so these were friendly calls. The oldest person I called was 103; many were in their seventies or older.

Our pitch was simple: what do you think four more years of Trump would be like? For many, that opened the floodgates to a rush of horror. These people want to see the last of that man!

We were able to tell these voters where the polls are; for a few, we could offer rides. Florida is thought to be close. Just maybe, these old folks will push Biden over the finish line ... They certainly hope so.

• • •

This post, like so much of my understanding of getting old, was inspired by my friend Ronni Bennett whose life ended on Friday. Before she went, she voted -- dutifully and a little grimly -- for the hope of a better country than the one she knew she was soon departing.