Friday, October 15, 2021

Computer woes

Ah, technology! When it works smoothly, it enhances life, or at least, productivity. When it doesn't work smoothly, it's frustrating as hell.

This week my faithful, elderly Mac finally gave up, inverting part of the screen. The condition is hard to describe. Here's a picture.

Note the right side -- the screen image has turned back on itself. To work with any element that required interaction on that side, I had to reach it by moving the cursor backward. I actually got to be able to do this.

So I gave up and bought a new machine.

Erudite Partner and Apple's Genius Bar kindly superintended the data migration from the old machine to the new.

It's all here in the new computer as I write. She's clean and fast. But that doesn't mean it all works as I expect, or at all. It will eventually feel as functional as the old one -- or maybe even better -- but for some time period I'll be tweaking and learning. 

I hate that.

Once upon a time, I was delighted by new technology, but I've long ago reached the stage where I value dependability over novelty. Computers are a tool. A tool is a fine thing, but, first and foremost, tools should work without making tasks harder. 

I know designers and marketers are thrilled by bells and whistles, but please, remember those of us who value simplicity and functionality. I am sure we are not a negligible part of the user universe.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Out and about observations

So what did I learn about our post-pandemic (we hope) city from walking 24th Street east of Mission, Valencia, 24th Street up the hill into Noe Valley, and Mission Street proper? Here are some surface impressions, probably overdrawn, but for what it is worth ...

There are plenty of empty and boarded up storefronts in all these commercial corridors. There are also plenty of dining sheds in what used to be parking spots.

This rather antic one is an extension of the Napper Tandy at 24th and South Van Ness. This establishment seems to be doing a good business, though more around the corner on 24th than here. In general, though there were gaps, the small businesses in the Latino Cultural District seemed to be soldiering on surprisingly well.

In Noe Valley, the dining sheds seemed more substantial and utilitarian. Restaurants which were open seemed to have considerable custom on a warm Saturday. But my impression was that the carnage among the small businesses that occupied street level store fronts was even more extreme than at the other end of 24th. Perhaps the rents were higher to begin with, so casualties of pandemic closures were more numerous?

By comparison, the Valencia corridor felt lively. And not just the dining sheds ... many retail storefronts were open and seemed to be getting traffic. As was true of all of us, pandemic survival was higher among the young and Valencia feels young, busy, and in a hurry.

Mission Street is another world. There's commerce alright. The BART plaza at 24th Street is an open air market -- many of the goods look as if they'd been pilfered from Walgreens. There are lots of closed stores in the section I walked -- far and away the highest percentage among these four commercial strips. But that doesn't mean the sidewalks are empty. There's also the most foot traffic here -- people of all races and gender presentations -- moving purposefully about their business. Yet the demise of so many long time businesses (and this was going on before the pandemic) make the street seem a little sad. There's life, but a little too much unhappy madness, great fatigue, and not enough joy.

They're back! Although a lot of the Silicon Valley folks are still working from home, the Google buses are once more crowding streets not built for such behemoths. Their absence was a gift of the virus.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Out and about on Mission Street (from 16th to 24th)

This stretch of Mission is the neighborhood at its grittiest, offering plenty of subjects with which to practice with my new lens.
One of the delights of living among newly arrived migrants is the quantity and quality of real food. We haven't destroyed their eating habits yet.
Folks around here don't hesitate to broadcast their hopes ...
... or to shape their piñatas to resemble fruits.

Essential campaigns for justice find voices here.

Not that we're serious all the time.

Neither is the neighborhood signage.

I've learned a lot while doing this lens self-training about the state of my near neighborhood in the post-pandemic (sure hope we're over the worst!). Will try to summarize some thoughts in the next few days.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Out and about in Noe Valley

More practice with the new lens. I work at this photography thing. Click any to enlarge.

There's some weird stuff out there.

And some that's seasonal but still interesting.

The local Catholic parish tries hard to take up neighborhood space, despite it's aggressively secular location.

This sign board feels quite culturally appropriate. It's worth remembering that not so long ago, the neighborhood was heavily of Irish origin.

Noe Valley can also be conventionally woke, thank goodness. Some admonitions are just common sense.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Out and about on Valencia Street

Yet more practice with my new lens. I rather like this view of the interior of Community Thrift. As always here, click to enlarge.

Not every commercial space survived the pandemic. Will this one contain retail -- or perhaps art?
Unlikely retail -- or perhaps art? A stuffed springbok for only $1200 at Paxton Gate.

Now there's a tag line.

To the point -- Do come in.
And here's the theme of the day!

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Out and about on 24th Street in the Mission

The blog is about to see a lot of posts like this. My beloved, highly adaptable, Tamron lens that I've been using for Walking San Francisco has given up after about 50,000 shots. 

So I'm wandering the local neighborhood, learning what I can do with its successor -- more modern, but perhaps not quite as high quality.

The Walking San Francisco project requires me to see and shoot quickly, sometimes with little chance to set up an image. I need to practice with the new equipment.

Sometimes what matters holds still.

Sometimes not.

This is where I've made my home.

Friday, October 08, 2021

Does anyone else see a resemblance?

Whenever I see photos of Jeffery Rosen on the right, I think of Puddleglum. He was Trump's final Attorney General who wouldn't go along with the January 6 coup attempt. The original Marsh-wiggle was "gloomy and pessimistic and described by other characters as a 'wet blanket'".

Friday cat blogging

Though she might try to tell you differently, we do feed her cat food. And, usually, she scarfs it down. But she's got a taste for more exotic fodder.

Sometimes getting a look at the snail mail requires intervention.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

The best quit, but there is no alternative but to struggle on

Throughout the Trump travesty, some of us wondered over and over, why didn't people working in the administration just quit when ordered to enforce bad, illegal, and cruel policies? If the federal bureaucracy and the political appointee-management ranks included many individuals of courage and conscience, we sure didn't hear from them. Mostly those who quit (or were used up and forced out) slunk shamefacedly away -- at most to follow up with self-justifying tell-all books.

Unhappily, Biden immigration policies have not changed much since the Trump era. Using the excuse of the pandemic, the administration continues to violate international and U.S. law guaranteeing migrants the right to make asylum claims. Under the law, the U.S. doesn't have to accept them all, but it has to listen to their claims, usually in the person of an immigration judge. Instead, enforcers bar international bridges. As anyone who scans newspapers or twitter knows, the Border Patrol still herds migrants like rogue cattle.

And within our borders, Martha E. Menendez, a scrappy Nevada immigration lawyer, summarizes what she is seeing:
Almost nine months into the Biden presidency, we can all see that very little has changed as far as immigration enforcement. The southern border (the Brown one, as I’ve taken to calling it) remains a humanitarian crisis of our own perpetuation; there have been no significant changes in the number of people in ICE custody, nor has there been any significant change in what their enforcement priorities even are. The enforcement guidelines that were finally released last week are so vague that our next tyrant wannabe dictator will have no problem releasing the ICE dogs on the immigrant community in full force once again. And you can trust that that tyrant is sure to come; they’re already lining up to prove who’s the most terrible, and thus the most deserving of the Republican nomination.
Sure, we'd still take Biden over Trump if that's the choice, but, as the Atlantic put it, Democrats’ Free Pass on Immigration Is Over.

Apparently some of the sort of people that Biden administration has placed in important roles dealing with immigrants and asylum seekers are made of sterner stuff than were the Trump toadies. In only nine months, there have been a couple of loud resignations:

Daniel Foote, U.S. special envoy to Haiti, wasn't about to be the face of justifying mass deportations of desperate people to the broken country where he served.
“I will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the dangers posed by armed gangs in control of daily life,” Foote wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
• And now Harold Koh, an Obama-era State Department lawyer who had returned to government to serve as the top political appointee in the Office of the Legal Adviser, has quit with a blast denouncing Biden's continuation of the Trump policy of claiming under "Title 42" that the coronavirus emergency gives the government the right to ignore migrants' claims under law.
“I believe this administration’s current implementation of the Title 42 authority continues to violate our legal obligation not to expel or return . . . individuals who fear persecution, death, or torture, especially migrants fleeing from Haiti,” he wrote in the memo. ... “Nearly 700,000 people have been expelled under Title 42 since February of this year, and . . . this past August alone, 91,147 were forcibly removed,” he said, citing U.S. government statistics. 
... “I ask you to do everything in your power to revise this policy, especially as it affects Haitians, into one that is worthy of this Nation we love,” Koh wrote to his colleagues.
If we elect Republicans, at this point we're accepting that our experiment in rule of law by democratic majorities is over. The rabid racist know-nothings win. 

If we elect Democrats, we still get political timidity and cruelty, but the democracy -- "we the people" in the historic constitutional phrase -- gets to fight another day.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

He's seen enough

Dr. Ashish K. Jha is an internist physician and academic serving as Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. In his role as a public commentator on the pandemic, he flies around on airplanes, probably more than most of us. He's ready for more rigor in public health regulation in the skies. He describes the situation as a conflict of rights -- one which airline employees mustn't be asked to mediate!

What follows is an edited twitter thread:

It's time for a vaccine mandate for air travel

... here's my story from last night that confirmed why we need it

Basically, we can't expect mitigation measures to be enforced well enough to prevent transmission on airplanes forever

Last night I took an overnight from LAX to Boston. I got to the gate, found myself next to a person whose mask barely covered her mouth. Mask was nowhere near her nose let alone covering it

... My flight boarded and I sat down in a window seat. She soon sat next to me. Sitting next to someone who is essentially maskless wasn't great

Truth is, if your nose isn't covered, you really aren't wearing a mask.

Flight attendant asked her to pull up her mask. She did. She chatted with me about having seen me on TV. She then volunteered she wasn't going to get the vaccine.

I tried to engage her on why. Her mask fell below her nose again. We kept chatting for a bit. I asked her nicely to pull up her mask. She got annoyed but did.

10 minutes later, it was down again. After waiting, I asked again. She glared and pulled it up.

Cabin lights dimmed. And now I couldn't see. We sat inches apart for a 5 1/2 hour flight with her variably masked. I don't love sitting next to an unvaccinated, unmasked person for hours.

Why do I care?

I'd rather not get a breakthrough infection. So I sat in my KF94, likely safe.

She was in the middle seat. Her neighbor in the aisle seat was an older man with a cloth mask. Not great.

We have very little ability to control what happens on planes. It's a place where we share the air with strangers for long periods of time. We could do stricter enforcement of masks. Flight attendants are trying but are also exhausted. Asking them to do more is not tenable.

But vaccine mandates for air travel are. Canada has done it. We should too. Mandate vaccine or negative test for air travel.

I understand the person next to me had the freedom not to be vaccinated.

The old man next to her has the right to fly without getting infected.

Dr. Jha is not only concerned about Americans in airplanes. He also keeps an eye on the rest of the world.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Charles Graham has a great story

This Democratic candidate for Congress in North Carolina's 9th District tells a dramatic, unifying story. He currently serves in the state's legislative General Assembly. A member of the Lumbee tribe, Graham is the only Native American currently serving in the General Assembly. 

Watch to learn about the Battle of Hayes Pond. You'll be glad you did.

It's official

The Chron reports: 

The water year has officially come to an end — and once again, the Bay Area has come up dry. ... A normal water year in San Francisco produces 23.65 inches of rain, but the city only saw 9.04 inches this past season. ...

Looking back over recent water years, the data shows below-normal percentages for all three Bay Area cities for half or more of the past six years — with the most recent the worst. 
Drought makes for beautiful dry days, a great opportunity to enjoy this city where getting outside is so easy. It's hard not to simply delight in them. 

But we have to learn to save water ...

The Chron adds further:

California vineyards can still make great wine even with limited water supply and droughts

Monday, October 04, 2021

What El Porvenir works to end ...

Picking up the daily water supply is a long and arduous job for rural women in Nicaragua. Their lives don't have to be that hard. Go along on this woman's daily task in this video -- and then visit El Porvenir to help out!

Sunday, October 03, 2021

The air was not always orange

By way of a tweet by Albert Pinto @70sBachchan. #Yosemite #CaliforniaFires #HalfDome

Here's a similar angle on the mountain. July 3, 2000.

Or there was this. I miss those clear air days.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Organize, struggle, and organize some more

Aside from occasional great mass outpourings of raw feeling or fury -- such as, for example, the George Floyd murder protests last year -- organizing people to demand power over their own lives is hard, slow, deep work. It hurts to be powerless; why would anyone who could evade knowing their own oppression be willing to stare unflinchingly at their situation and then take action that inevitably will include some risk? It's a tough ask -- and one that no decent organizer should make without an awareness of leading some people into what will be hard for them. Union organizers know this, or learn this. So do community organizers who take on real fights. Even electoral organizers can encounter this.

Professor Robin D.G. Kelley's Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression is a narrative history of remarkable organizing among and by mostly rural Black workers during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was written as Kelley's dissertation in the early 1990s, but the story remains so engaging that it was reissued with a new prologue in 2015.

At its baldest level, this is a terrible chronicle of beatings, arrests, and murders of organizers, including mostly Black local residents and some northern CPUSA members. There was a pattern: organizers would encourage people to come together for a purpose, say to demand unemployment relief, or to launch a union of share croppers or tenants, or protest violence against their community. Repression -- beatings, shootings -- by the white segregationist political authorities would follow. That reaction might even inspire mobilization for wider protests. But eventually poverty and overwhelming force would tamp down any particular manifestation of Black worker resistance. Yet large numbers of Alabamans did participate in these repeated eruptions, forming a sort of Communist-influenced "invisible army" which struggled for more respect and justice. Most Communists kept their party membership secret for their own safety -- but they were there.

What seems to have delighted Kelley is way in which Communist Marxist orthodoxy, which was a real and rigid thing in the 1930s, melded with the indigenous culture of Black resistance.  The local strike leader could very well also be the local community church elder leading services on Sunday nights. The same elder might very well be studying the revolutionary thought of Stalin and making sure the rifle he kept by his bed was ready and loaded for a visit from the Klan.

Alabama Communists followed the gyrations of the international Communist line in the 1930s, working in popular front with such reformist bourgeois outfits such as the NAACP and the Roosevelt New Deal for awhile, then drawing back during the period of the Hitler/Stalin pact, then enthusiastically joining the military when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and finally the U.S. joined the war. But these currents seemed remote to southern Communists. After all, some of the rural people they were organizing explained to themselves that these agitators must be Yankees finally come to fulfill the promise of Reconstruction.

The Party did struggle for "internal interracial democracy" -- not always successfully, but aspirationally. No other force in the south was trying as hard, or even at all, for racial equality in practice.

The Cold War of the late 1940s put an end to this bout of CPUSA organizing in the South. But the "invisible army" was still there when a less ostensibly class conscious civil rights movement against segregation and for Black voting power emerged in the 1950s. Kelley has preserved the names and stories of a generation of amazing justice warriors.

• • •

One significant quibble: it's a good thing that this book comes with a glossary of abbreviations. Kelley wrote seemingly expecting readers to be able to hold all the names of organizations which he refers to just by their initials. I certainly couldn't, especially in the audio edition.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Some mornings, Janeway impersonates a liquid while I'm drinking my morning coffee. She doesn't worry about sliding off -- she'll just jump back if that happens.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Many of these deaths were preventable

Charles Gaba is a progressive data nerd. Back in 2013, when it was hard to find consistent, reliable reporting of enrollment data for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), he started compiling the information and publishing it at

In the last month, Gaba has put together a series of charts showing the correlation between the prevalence of COVID deaths with the percentages of state votes for Donald Trump. The result is one of the most depressing things I've seen in a long time.

Back at the beginning of the pandemic, the highest death rates were in blue states with big cities. But not anymore.

Click to enlarge.
Donald Trump and his Republican minions -- who are leading the MAGA crowd in rejecting masks and vaccines -- are literally killing people.Vaccination is available to nearly everyone over 12.  Vaccinations may not prevent all infections, but they do prevent almost all deaths. Yet the death rate in Trump-voting counties is nearly twice that in the most blue-voting counties. 

There's a level of malevolence in this that's hard to fathom.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Some scary soldiers

There's been a lot of noise over the last week about whether the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, had violated the rules and traditions of civilian control of the military and breached political neutrality during the last days of the Trump administration. Milley apparently did assure the Chinese that his Commander in Chief was not about to launch an attack; dozens of officials were aware of this call and, except for Trump loyalists, consider Milley to have been doing his duty.

I'll take the judgment on this subject of former Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman. the officer who blew the whistle on Trump's Ukraine shenanigans and lost his career, over a bunch of Republican hacks. He thinks Milley did right, mostly.

But as a leftish-inclined observer of the U.S. military, there are some soldiers who are scaring the shit out of me. In a moment when the white supremacist right is openly plotting with "the former guy" to overthrow American democracy (such as it is), these are the guys who give me the willies. They have been been broadcasting their grievances. Jeff Schogol has the story:

Click to enlarge.
Since May, a Space Force lieutenant colonel has claimed that the military’s diversity and anti-extremism training are rooted in Marxism; a Marine lieutenant colonel became a lightning rod for openly critiquing military leadership over the Afghanistan withdrawal while in uniform; an Army lieutenant colonel has tried to resign just short of retirement because he believes that requiring troops to be vaccinated for COVID-19 is an “unlawful, unethical, immoral, and tyrannical order”; and a Navy commander has gone on Fox News to promote conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines.

It's not so much disaffected generals who might decide to go full fascist that worry me. It's mid-career officers like these. Many a fascist coup has counted on junior officers.

These soldiers have spent nearly twenty years fighting wars for which their civilian political leadership has never been able to define an attainable mission. They have watched people they know die -- for what? Then the pols have pulled them back -- and sometimes sent them right back into the crucible again. And when they come home, they are not treated as heroes. The country is oblivious to their efforts and wants to forget their wars. No wonder they are pissed -- and from the point of view of their superiors they present a discipline problem.

Schogol adds: 

Officers at that rank are above the company commander level, but not at the point where they have a star on their collar. Getting there is no small feat either, but it’s also an odd position in that field-grade officers aren’t quite “high ranking” but they have just enough rank so that people notice when they act out in public.

... The unanswered question remains: Why is the Defense Department facing an epidemic of O-5s who are embracing the “YOLO” philosophy in their careers.

One reason could be that officers at that paygrade are at a point in their careers where they may have “buyer’s remorse” about some of the decisions they’ve made along the way, said retired Army Col. Bob Wilson, who served on the National Security Council in 2016 and 2017.

“You’re at 17, 18 years; you’ve kind of chosen your lot in life, and you may not be super happy with it – a kind of middle-age kind of thing, mid-life thing,” said Wilson, a fellow with the New America think tank’s International Security program.

... However, one of the things that makes these recent incidents significant is that so many senior(ish) officers have so publicly ignored the military’s sacred commitment to maintain good order and discipline. 

“You just have to ask yourself: What is going on?” Wilson said. “Are we picking the right people for leadership positions? Are we educating people enough? That’s my concern. We have to be adaptive as a force. We have to be able to absorb information and uncertainty and make the best decisions possible for the mission and the people we’re responsible for. And you’re watching arguably senior people with a lot of training and experience invested in them, and they’re just being idiots on social media, on old school media...."

The U.S. military is Schogol's beat. He's not looking for it to go rogue. 

But I almost wonder whether Joe Biden took the out-of-the-ordinary step of putting a retired general, Lloyd Austin, in charge of the Defense (War) Department because such a leader might have a better handle on reining in this sort of politicized insubordination. Civilians need that.

I do think among the symptoms of a gathering right wing storm, military indiscipline is one of the more ominous ones.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

When we do what we have to do

I found myself thinking about my mother today. Her perfect pleasure, when I was small, was to load me and any available friends into the current Ford sedan; she'd drive us to Grand Island in the Niagara River to go swimming. We'd jump in and she'd watch us. Then we'd come out and she'd take a leisurely swim up river and emerge relaxed. 

On the drive over and on the way back, we'd pass the local oil refinery and gas depot terminal. It looked a lot like this picture, only dirtier, and smelled of escaping fumes that burned from high pipes.

The sight entered my imagination as a sort of vision of Hell -- so smelly, so ugly. But I don't remember saying that to my mother.

That's not what my mother saw when we passed the refinery. She would explain that this -- and the Hooker Chemical factories down the road -- were what had won the War (World War II) and defeated the Nazis. There's was pride in the oil plant and the dirty, smoky industrial might which was her mid-20th century landscape.
• • •
This came to mind when I read Bill McKibben's account of a solar energy entrepreneur's attempt to erect an array of panels outside a Vermont town. Thomas Hand did everything he could to mollify concerned neighbors: he hired an "aesthetics consultant" and planned extensive tree planting to reduce the visibility of his project. The town gave him the necessary permits. 

And then the state’s Public Utilities Commission turned down the project because it would detract from the neighbors' view of a nearby mountain in winter when the trees were bare. Property values might be hurt.

My mother would have been mystified. She came from a generation which understood that, confronted with existential crisis, you pull together as a community and do what must be done. And you could take pride in doing it.

McKibben describes what it might take to get back to that sort of understanding: 
Building clean energy is the project of our era on earth. And at some level it really is an aesthetic issue. When we look at a solar panel or a wind turbine, we need to be able to see—and our leaders need to help us see, because that’s what leadership involves--that there’s something beautiful reflected back out of that silicon: people finally taking responsibility for the impact our lives have on the world and the people around us. 
We are in an emergency, and an emergency calls for imagination, for literally seeing things in a new way. To hide that truth behind a screen of words is—well, offensive and shocking.

• • •

Just for fun, here's someone who did her bit in my mother's era and is still telling the story at age 100.

H/t friend Laura for this.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Go ahead, fire them!

They take an oath "to protect and serve." We give them authority to use force on others. They lose some personal privileges -- or ought to.

I started a small collection of these headlines over the weekend. The reporting that goes under this one is outrageous. 

Police and firefighters who interact with the public have personal rights, [Dr. Timothy Brewer, an infectious disease expert, physician and epidemiology professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health] said, but also added responsibilities to public health. 
“Remember, with rights come responsibilities, and as public safety officers, they have a responsibility to take any reasonable steps to avoid endangering the public,” and getting vaccinated is such a step, Brewer said. 
... LAPD officers are already required, as a condition of employment, to be vaccinated against nine other pathogens.
And it's likely that the sheriff's department (jail guards) are even less vaccinated.

New York State is being really tough with an adjacent group. Again, seems right. If they won't get vaxxed with no health excuse, they are not working for community health, regardless of what their job titles may say.