Saturday, January 30, 2021

All in the family

This photo from the Los Angeles Times made me exquisitely happy when I ran across it. About time!

The anthropology building at UC Berkeley, named for Alfred Louis Kroeber, was newish when I attended the school and something of an ornament, renowned for Kroeber's collection of Native Californian artifacts. But even then, it wasn't hard to feel there was something creepy, and foul, about Kroeber's promotion of a dependent Yahi man named Ishi as a sort of living zoo exhibit. That was back in 1911, but Kroeber's book about Ishi was all over the campus in the 60s, celebrated and revered. 

In a very different vein, the U.S. Postal Service has announced that it is honoring science fiction author Ursula LeGuin in its Literary Arts series. If you don't know her work, you've missed some great reading.

The background to the stamp seems to derive from the story in The Left Hand of Darkness -- which concerns a human's journeys on a planet where normal people have neither female nor male genders or sexual orientations, except when in a kind of heat condition and then in unpredictable and changeable directions. The visiting human's fixed gender is thought by the natives to be sexually perverse ... 

LeGuin was the daughter of Kroeber. The study of human cultures can be both colonizing and mind opening?

Friday, January 29, 2021

U.S. religious landscape 2021: a coming out for liberal religion

The opening lines are close to giddy. This example appeared on the NBC news website.

... If there was any lingering doubt, last week made it clear: The religious left is not a curious outlier in American politics. The religious references during President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the inaugural prayer service held Thursday morning with a powerful lineup of religious leaders and the swearing in of the Rev. Raphael Warnock as a newly minted senator are proof that progressive people of faith are a powerful force in American politics.
These writers, who work at faith subdivisions of the Center for American Progress, go on to remind us that progressive religion has been one of the underpinnings of every justice struggle in U.S. history from the abolition of slavery, though overthrowing Jim Crow, to opposing the empire's forever wars, and even to recognizing the full humanity of LGBT people. 

Peace- and justice-seeking religiosity may have been eclipsed by Trump's coterie of evangelical courtiers, but it never went away. Given a chance by the Biden election, this sort of faith advocacy is back and determined to push the new administration in its direction.

Four years ago, many Episcopalians, myself included, were aghast that the National Cathedral in Washington had extended its accustomed welcome to the new president for an interfaith service to be held the day after the inauguration. On that occasion, church leaders finessed the contradictions in giving house room to Donald Trump by omitting any sermon. What could anyone say? This year, the interfaith service was on online, and the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II spoke the homily.

Here's the video of Barber's 12 minute exposition of Isaiah 58. Some excerpts:

We must address the five interlocking injustices of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation/denial of healthcare, the war economy, and the false moral narrative of religious nationalism. These are breaches that must be addressed, and according to the text, repairing the breaches will bring revival…
Please God, grant us wisdom, grant us courage, until the poor are lifted, the sick are healed, children are protected, and civil rights and human rights never neglected. Grant us wisdom for the facing of this hour until love and justice are never rejected.  
Grant us wisdom and courage for the facing of this hour until, together, we make sure there is racial justice and economic justice and living wage justice and health care justice and ecological justice and disability justice and justice for homeless and justice for the poor and low-wealth and working poor and immigrant justice—until we study war no more and peace and justice are the way we live. 
This is the only path to domestic tranquility and healing.
Elizabeth Dias reported an interview with Rev. Barber which catches emotions and hopes in progressive religious circles occasioned by the change in administrations:
Jesus taught that a nation is judged by how it treats the least of these, the poor, the hungry, the sick, the immigrant, he explained. 
“Birth pangs require one thing: pushing,” he said. “That is what the movement has to do.”

 • • •

While surfing about collecting material for this series of posts, I stumbled upon some provoking reflections from Tony Karon, a South African-born journalist and former anti-Apartheid activist who writes Rootless Cosmopolitan. A self-described "nice Jewish boy" and not any kind of believer, he thinks the South African experience of defeating apartheid may have something to teach about the role of religion in a struggle against Christian nationalism.

... In apartheid South Africa, Christian discourse also provided an off-ramp for some of the regime’s supporters to stand down, to accept the sinfulness of their system, reconcile themselves with equality and ask forgiveness — in the common discourse they shared with the moral underwriters of the liberation project: Such epiphanies were common among individual high profile white Christian figures before the end of apartheid, and the narrative of Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by Bishop Tutu — for all its limitations and faults — exemplified this idea and possibility, that Christianity creates a pathway for weakening, disabling and dismantling white nationalism. 
Not by itself, of course, not absent intense social-justice struggles on other fronts. But Christian witness against apartheid played a role in unraveling the ideological conviction that sustained the system’s enforcers in South Africa. And I have a feeling that the social-justice project in America may need to create pathways, also, for at least some of the adherents of “Christian Nationalism” to find their way back to a Christianity based on justice and equality....

I'm unsure about that -- but I am open to living and learning. The whole of Karon's post is broadening.

• • •

U.S. religious landscape 2021:

What is sacred?

Evangelical Christians: but how can they?  

Roman Catholics in sunlight 

White Christian insurrectionists and fellow travelers

A coming out for liberal religion

Friday cat blogging

Janeway gets a rest today. These two alley cats gave me the hairy eyeball as I was Walking San Francisco.

He had caught something and he wasn't going to let me interfere with his meal, so through the fence he scuried when he spotted me.
This gray fellow had no fear of the approaching stranger, but he let me know whose sidewalk I was walking.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

U.S. religious landscape 2021: white Christian insurrectionists and fellow travelers

The storming of the Capitol on January 6 made white Christian nationalists all too visible. Lauren K. Kerby has been observing these folks for years.

At the siege, the presence of white conservative Christians was unmistakable. The Proud Boys stopped to pray to Jesus on their march toward the Capitol, and the crowd held signs proclaiming Jesus Saves and God’s Word Calls Them Out. One flag read Jesus is my savior. Trump is my President. In the Capitol, an insurgent stopped to pray outside a room where Senator Mitch McConnell’s staffers hid behind barricaded doors. She asked God for “the evil of Congress to be brought to an end.”
But Kerby notes, this time they weren't the only crazies in the crowd:
Not all of the January 6 insurrectionists were white Christian nationalists. Some represented themselves as pagan, while others were later identified as Orthodox Jews. Many came because they were inspired by QAnon conspiracy theories. But they were all united by the idea that the establishment should be overthrown and the nation returned to its founding principles, an idea white Christian nationalists have been promoting and normalizing for decades.
People who study fringe religious enthusiasms and conspiracy theories are struggling to explain the melding of these oddball fantasies into violence on behalf of Trump's false election claim. There's a considerable stretch between your everyday Christian evangelical believer who assumes the Bible requires her to follow the leader, militia gun nuts spoiling for an heroic final battle, QAnon believers obsessed with internet "research" into establishment Satanism, and a handful of ignorant fantasists dreaming of an imagined Nordic paganism. 

That long time chronicler of right wing Christianity, Sarah Posner, tries to sort out the conjunction of these quite disparate strands at the Capitol in an interview:

Q: the guy in the horns. What was that about?

Well, he’s a fairly well-known QAnon figure from Arizona who just misappropriates a bunch of different cultural symbols to dress up in this weird outfit. You see a lot of that at right-wing events—people who’ll either dress up in some Viking outfit or some other kind of medieval figure, Knights Templar, that sort of thing. They attempt to claim that Vikings or other figures from the Middle Ages represent whiteness and white supremacy and justify reviving white supremacy in 21st century America. ...
I think QAnon was a significant driver of a lot of the people who showed up there. It crosses different realms of the right. It crosses over into evangelical Christianity. It crosses over into these openly Nazi and white supremacist realms, and in a lot of ways it was the common thread. The woman who was shot and later died trying to break into the speaker’s lobby, Ashli Babbitt—she was an avid QAnon adherent, believing that there is a deep state that was out to get Trump, of Satanic pedophiles who were trying to undermine Trump’s presidency and who stole the election from him. ....

... a lot of this rhetoric is being put out there by Christian right organizations or Christian right leaders or evangelical pastors or televangelists and so forth. That the election was stolen was an article of faith—literally—for months. And because the Christian right has seen Trump and created this iconography around Trump that he is a divinely anointed president whose enemies are literally Satanic. This is why the QAnon conspiracy theory played so prominently among evangelicals, why it was so easy for them to absorb it. The idea that the enemies of their anointed leader were Satanic or pedophiles, which is something that they have long thought about Muslims and homosexuals, fit very easily into their worldview. 
... Anti-Semitism has always been a key part of these white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements in the United States that we now lump together as the alt-right. Their central idea is that diversity is causing white genocide, and one of their big grievances is that Jews get so much advantage from that: “They get to say that Hitler tried to wipe them out, but what about us? We’re the ones who are being deprived of our homeland.” That morphs into Holocaust denial. ... 
... A lot of evangelicals who have fallen for the QAnon conspiracy theory would not recognize that it is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory because they’re just not familiar with, say, the blood libel. I mean, the blood libel is the heart of the QAnon conspiracy theory: That Christians, or righteous people, righteous Americans, are being prevented from holding power by people who literally abuse and murder children. ...
Diana Butler Bass is an historian of Christianity and an advocate for progressive Christianity. She has her own intriguing theories about the religious trends visible among the insurrectionists. She contends that in the late 20th century, denominational allegiances which once defined differences between Christian groups were replaced by cross-denominational right and left alliances.
... people on each side — especially conservatives — were crossing denominational lines and joining forces with like-minded folks in other religious groups, forming two super-alliances of faith and politics. Thus, conservative Catholics, Jews, and Protestants formed common cause around certain issues; likewise liberals formed the same. One of the results of this political restructuring of American religion was — and this was a new phenomenon at the time — a liberal Baptist had more in common with a liberal Catholic and a liberal Jew than she did with a conservative Baptist; and a conservative Presbyterian found comradeship with a pre-Vatican II Catholic or an Orthodox rabbi rather than a liberal Presbyterian.
The insurrection revealed a new alignment:
... On January 6, we did not witness the old Religious Right at the Capitol. Instead, we saw three streams of religion, forging a new alliance.
They weren’t “conservative” per se (even if certain familiar conservative issues [-- abortion, LGBTQ inclusion, and women’s rights --] were in play). Instead, they were hyper-authoritarian, nationalist, and apocalyptic versions of white Catholicism, white evangelical Protestantism, and white pre-Christian European folk religions joined together to advance a shared vision of American identity and political power. And together they represent a kind of cleavage within the old Religious Right, one that is similar to the split in the Republican party.
In a discursive but interesting video discussion with the Rev. Ed Bacon, formerly of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Butler Bass muses on the faux Nordic neo-pagan and white supremacist strain in emerging rightwing U.S. religion -- these folks see the path to hell being carved by white people betraying their race.

In Rolling Stone, reporter Kim Kelly meanwhile points out that more disciplined and perhaps authentic neo-pagans loath what the Q folks are making of their tradition.

Understandably, many actual pagans are horrified at the way white supremacists have co-opted their religious and cultural icons and twisted them into symbols of hate. Talia Lavin, who explores the concept in her recent book, Culture Warlords, says that neo-Nazis’ Viking fetish harkens back to their obsession with both traditional European conceptions of masculinity and whiteness itself. “Neopagan symbols offer the hypermasculine aesthetic sheen of the Viking,” she explains via text message. “But we can also see a desire to ground their white supremacist ideology in a purportedly timeless myth, a desire to reach back to an anachronistic, ahistorical ‘perfect’ whiteness, thus grounding their violence in an idealized past, in white nationalism as in any other form of nationalism.”

Funny how the worst of these quasi-religious byways in the United States always come back to whiteness among their white adherents.

• • •

U.S. religious landscape 2021:

What is sacred?

Evangelical Christians: but how can they?  

Roman Catholics in sunlight 

White Christian insurrectionists and fellow travelers

A coming out for liberal religion

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

U.S. religious landscape 2021: Roman Catholics in sunlight

Michael Sean Winters, who covers the nexus of religion and politics for the liberal National Catholic Reporter, can hardly contain his delight in the inauguration of Joe Biden.
Wednesday, Jan. 20, was a very Catholic day. It began with the president-elect bringing the political leadership of the nation to Mass. ... Once he had taken the oath of office, the new president gave a speech that was heavy on themes found on every page of Catholic social teaching: the dignity of the human person, the commission to serve the common good as the first justification of government, the value of democracy in protecting human dignity and both requiring and evidencing equality, the virtue of solidarity.
President Biden seems such a normal specimen of an establishment white man that it's hard to remember he's doing some path breaking. He's only the nation's second Catholic president. I'm old enough to remember that the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 was greeted by many white protestants as a threat; would this young man call up the Pope in Rome about his every move? My mother, the cradle Republican Party activist as well as a cradle Episcopalian protestant, remembered toying with supporting Gov. Al Smith's candidacy in 1928 as the height of her youthful transgressions; Democrats had made Smith the first Catholic presidential candidate.

Today, Biden's Catholicism seems comfortingly conventional to the majority electorate that put him in office. They may be a little surprised; his Catholic justice tradition comes with a lot of backbone.

Winters meanwhile is appalled by the letter some of the hierarchs of his church sent the new president:
... Apparently, the leadership of the U.S. bishops conference, before it had even heard the speech, chose to range itself among those unwilling to "come together to carry all of us forward." Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, president of the conference, issued a churlish statement. .... He acknowledged there would be areas where the bishops could work with the new administration but also warned that Biden had "pledged to pursue certain policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender." ...
There's a familiar whiff of prurience in the Catholic bishops concerns. The gentlemen seem awfully obsessed about what people do with bodies ...

Winters is having none of it:
The statement contained two big fat lies at its heart. Gomez stated, "I look forward to working with President Biden and his administration, and the new Congress." Excuse me, but this statement was not designed to build a relationship with the new administration. It was designed to sabotage it. In that regard, as one bishop explained to me last night, the statement was an attack on [Pope] Francis who has made clear he actually does wish to work with the new administration. ...

... I am sure the leadership at the bishops' conference would be treating any Democrat shabbily. But I think what makes them really crazy is the fact that they realize, at some deep unconscious level, Biden did more in 24 hours to remind the American people that the Catholic Church can be a force for good in our country than the bishops' conference has done in 10 years. ...
The Biden presidency will certainly highlight the divides in the Roman Catholic Church, roughly a quarter of the U.S. population.

• • •

To my knowledge, there's not a lot of commentary about what religious affiliation, if any, Kamala Harris brings to her path breaking new position. The biography I discussed last week doesn't to my recollection mention her religious affiliation; it's a California-oriented book after all. (I can't check this and might be wrong; I don't have a hard copy.)

Apparently Harris is a Baptist. Her South Asian Indian Hindu mother and Jamaican leftish intellectual father assimilated to the Oakland of their time by sending their daughters off to the 23rd Avenue Church of God where she sang in the choir. She has shown on the campaign trail that she is well versed in the language of protestant Christianity, as well as comfortable with her mother's tradition and her husband's Jewish heritage. So Californian ...

Meanwhile, our racist Christianists cope with her disorienting ascent by labeling her a Jezebel. They are non-plussed as so often by contemporary reality.

• • • 

U.S. religious landscape 2021:

What is sacred?

Evangelical Christians: but how can they?  

Roman Catholics in sunlight 

White Christian insurrectionists and fellow travelers

A coming out for liberal religion

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

U.S. religious landscape 2021: but how can they?

Ever since the Trump election of 2016 was achieved with 81 percent support from white evangelical Christians, I've been trying to understand what motivated these people to affiliate themselves with such a foul human being. I've written up books by Sarah Posner and John Fea. I've dutifully read efforts by establishment conservative oped writers like Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner. And I go on wondering.

In the Elizabeth Dias New York Times article I'm taking as conventional wisdom about the religious implications of the Biden transition, she summarizes:

... His arrival comes after four years in which conservative Christianity has reigned in America’s highest halls of power, embodied in white evangelicals laser-focused on ending abortion and guarding against what they saw as encroachments on their freedoms. Their devotion to former President Donald J. Trump was so fervent that many showed up in Washington on Jan. 6 to protest the election results.

 But looking backward and forward, I wonder if we can't learn more from Christy Thomas, a former evangelical who eventually liberated herself to become an United Methodist minister and a consistent voice for a generous Jesus. She pulls no punches:

Who are they, these decent people who still remain as true believers in Mr. Trump, insisting that he won the election and that the Jan. 6 protestors were really Antifa adherents? What motivates them? What makes them tick?

For the most part, they tend to be avid readers of the Bible. They do so with this much pre-determined: The Bible is without error and therefore trustworthy. The commands therein are to be believed and acted upon. And it was written with the 21st century U.S. in mind and in a direct line with prophetic words in the ancient texts. ...

As a rule, these good people belong to a church with a charismatic male pastor with a gift for teaching and explaining the Bible. God is male, and God’s spokesperson must also be male.

Furthermore, and this is key, these believers operate under the understanding that they should not question or in any way hinder the person who is in leadership, whether it be in the church or in the nation. ...

She goes on to explain the extremely convenient (and authoritarian) reading these people draw from the story in the first book of Samuel, 24th chapter, about ancient Israel's kings: King Saul (a bad dude) and David (an obedient subject and hero). 

Apparently these folks don't read the earlier passage in the same book (1 Samuel 8) in which God warns that the Israelites won't like having a king who will conscript their sons to wars and seize their flocks and fields for the king's own.

Christy Thomas found no remedy for white Christian evangelicalism than to get out. Her conclusion is poignant: 

... when their leaders tell them that God has chosen Mr. Trump for at least another four years, they have one job: make sure that it happens, so God’s will is indeed done on earth as it is in heaven.

... I lived and breathed this world for years. By being so sure God is indeed in charge and busy choosing my leaders, my job became amazingly simple: do everything possible to support those leaders, no matter the personal cost I may need to pay. ...

I spent years and years, twisting my mind into knots, trying to make it work. I also endured significant horrors in my private life before I finally could no longer deal with the discordance. Eventually, I was both kicked out and also walked out voluntarily.

You can read it all here. 

• • •

The Pew Forum Religious Landscape Study counts 25 percent of the U.S. population as white evangelical. It also shows that most are Boomers or older; the 18-29 cohort isn't buying it. This particular perversion of the religious impulse may be waning in post-Trump time, though such authors as Posner insist we should never underestimate the profitable political infrastructure which the authoritarian Christian right thrives on on.

• • •

U.S. religious landscape 2021:

What is sacred?

Evangelical Christians: but how can they?  

Roman Catholics in sunlight 

White Christian insurrectionists and fellow travelers

A coming out for liberal religion

Monday, January 25, 2021

U.S. religious landscape 2021: what is sacred?

So I asked Erudite Partner, "how do you feel when, after the mob invasion of January 6 and President Biden's inauguration, people call the U.S. Capitol sacred?"

"Slightly queasy," she replied.

Me too. I'm more than a little allergic to calling most any building "sacred," though I've been in a few that evoked that awe -- the Umayed Mosque in Damascus comes to mind. I consider the U.S. Capitol a symbol of a secular nation, a place embodying some of the honorable strands of our history, but not sacred.

But the label is popular at the moment.

We just got rid of a president who falsely claimed he'd won an election in a "sacred landslide." Even if he had won, that would be a weird framing.

But less lunatic public figures seem inclined to call the building sacred. Speaker Pelosi, during the debate on what to do with the lunatic president, spoke of the January assault as a "gleeful desecration of the Capitol." Though Texas Republican Congressmember Pat Fallon voted to block certification of Joe Biden's entirely aboveboard election victory, he too protested that "a mob breached our sacred Capitol." Democratic House Rep. Brian Higgins (NY) was all in on the usage: "The US Capitol is a sacred space - a building at the literal center of our capital and central to our democracy. ..."

And news media describing the January 6 mob have gone wild using "sacred" as shorthand to induce revulsion:
“He’s a noted Nazi miscreant,” Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino. “It is a disgrace that someone like him was able to invade the sacred Capitol of the United States.” Los Angeles CBS Local

After 52 years of voting, knowing many of these election workers, I have more faith than ever. The faith symbolized by a big, beautiful, sacred Capitol that came under assault today, but the angry people have all left. The Capitol remains, bothered, but not destroyed and still standing. A symbol of American faith. Craig O'Neill Little Rock, AR 11
The resonance of the label "sacred" probably has a lot to do with the increasingly common function of the Capitol as a venue for funeral tributes to distinguish citizens. Since Senator Henry Clay was the first in 1852, deceased officials, judges, and military leaders have lain in state at the Capitol, most recently John McCain, John Lewis, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It would be churlish to feel there was something wrong with that unifying ritual practice, a bridge inclusive of particular faiths and none in a largely secular society.

The change of administrations, including both the Capitol riot and the inauguration, has led to an outpouring of commentary on the U.S. religious landscape. All sociological research says we are becoming less and less religiously observant. Yet faith(s), religious and perhaps also secular, seems so significant and so lively in this turning over, or perhaps turning back, moment.

Elizabeth Dias provided a straightforward reporter's account of what she sees as the arrival of "an ascendant liberal Christianity," a development that reflects the change in the man at the top:
There are myriad changes with the incoming Biden administration. One of the most significant: a president who has spent a lifetime steeped in Christian rituals and practices. Mr. Biden, perhaps the most religiously observant commander in chief in half a century, regularly attends Mass and speaks of how his Catholic faith grounds his life and his policies. ...

 Well, true, and I'm thankful. But there is so much more to ponder here.

Biden's installation has unleashed a flood of commentary on religion and faith in our politics and culture, too many perspectives to survey in one blog post. I find many fascinating. This week I am going to take up a few, one perspective at a time.

• • •

U.S. religious landscape 2021:

What is sacred?

Evangelical Christians: but how can they?  

Roman Catholics in sunlight 

White Christian insurrectionists and fellow travelers

A coming out for liberal religion 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Making more peace

Something I found almost unexpected -- and good -- happened last week. And no, I don't just mean the inauguration of Biden and Harris; that we had reason to hope for. I mean that on Thursday the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) came into force. 

What? Yes. This international agreement is a legally binding pact to comprehensively prohibit nuclear weapons with the ultimate goal being their total elimination. Passed at the United Nations in 2017 by 122 nations (with all the nations that currently have the bombs abstaining), it now has collected the fifty national signatories to enter into force among them. Thirty-five additional nations are in the process of ratifying.

Pat Hynes describes developments which demonstrate the strong force of world opinion, and even U.S. opinion, that is building against these ultimate weapons of mass destruction: 

■ The General Electric Company stopped production of nuclear weapons in 1993. ...

■ Mitsubishi UFG Financial Group, 1 of the 5 largest banks in the world, has excluded nuclear weapons production from its portfolio, labeling them “inhumane.” ...

■ Our goal must be a world “without nuclear weapons … “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought:” Former Republican Secretary of State George Schultz and former Democrat Secretary of Defense William Perry.

■ Mayors for Peace: 7,675 cities in 163 countries support the total abolition of nuclear weapons.

■ Fifty-six former presidents, prime ministers, foreign and defense ministers from 20 NATO countries and Japan and South Korea recently signed an open letter in support of the UN treaty to ban nuclear weapons. “Sooner or later our luck will run out — unless we act. … There is no cure for a nuclear war,” they asserted. “Prevention is our only option.”

■ Pope Francis: “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral. As is the possession of atomic weapons.”

Isn't this all just noise, without effect or meaning? After all, the guys with the bombs still have the bombs and even sensible U.S. presidents still prove their manhood by "modernizing" the nuclear arsenal for great profit to the defense contractor establishment.

Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro's book, The Internationalists, convinced me that the process of developing an international legal framework to replace the rule of "might makes right" is a vital and effectual part of turning our fractious species away from our own destruction. We don't go quietly, but our better angels can be given space by the clamor of the people. Creating this treaty, however aspirational, gives the peoples of the world -- who gain nothing from the continuing nuclear menace -- a place to stand. Bravo!

Today's yanked image is of Australian activists from ICAN/Twitter.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Saturday scenes: Oceanview Public Library

Might we perhaps be entering a season during which I can simply pass along wonderful sights I've encountered, mostly while Walking San Francisco? That is, can we all breathe again?

As is so often the case when I'm out and about walking, I had no idea this was here.

This charming public art decorates the Oceanview Public Library on Randolph Street. It's closed because of the pandemic at present.
You can't actually see the ocean from Randolph, though it might be visible on a fog-free day on a ridge to the north. The neighborhood was once mostly Black and run down. It's now multi-racial -- Black, Filipino, Chinese, so many ethnicities -- and still down at the heels, where a hard-pressed working class lives.
It's the newest library branch in the city, a present from former mayor Willie Brown, opened during his re-election campaign in 1999. His opponent Frank Jordan claimed Willie stole the credit from him ... How San Francisco!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Brains and drive -- what else?

I read a book about Joe Biden. The least I could do was read the available book about Kamala Harris. So I did.

Author Dan Morain strikes me as bringing a conventional state capitol journalist's perspective to California's current favorite daughter: congratulatory, careful, and slightly cynical. After four decades of urban and state political reporting, his viewpoint is no surprise. Up close, Sacramento and its denizens most likely always looks powerful, compromised, and slightly sleazy.

Simon & Schuster bills Kamala's Way: An American Life as "a revelatory biography." It is not.

The later part of the publisher's blurb does seem more accurate; this is a detailed accounting of Vice President Harris' life, upbringing, some influences, career, some accomplishments:
"... the kind of people she brings into her orbit, the sorts of problems she’s good at solving, and the missteps, risks, and bold moves she’s made on her way to the top."
If the story of Harris's career is unfamiliar, this is a good introduction. As a dabbler in San Francisco and California politics for decades, I appreciate that Morain understands and explains why Northern California contributes so much beyond its population size to the state's politics. It's not just the available political cash; Los Angeles and Hollywood provide plenty of that too. It's also the intimacy of a setting in which committed activists clamor to be heard and give all politicians a rough ride. Those who prevail get tough. Harris learned survivor's moves -- navigating a still white-dominated political environment.

And for all her lofty perch, we still don't know quite what beyond brains and ambition drive Harris. Morain tries -- in his telling her most authentic policy passion, the aspect of her career that stands out, has been defense of children from racist limitations, neglect, and predators. That's not a full agenda, but it's certainly a good base from which to start.

Beyond Morain's scope is the marvelous symbolism which Harris' new position embodies. I'll leave it to Nsé Ufot of the New Georgia Project to explain:
Harris’ election proves what many of us have always known: We do not need to moderate or shrink from who we are as a party in order to win elections — a winning platform can be rooted in equity and justice. ... With Harris, America will have a vice president who knows what it means to be a Black woman in a country that too often takes our experiences and needs for granted (until it desperately needs us to save itself).
After reading Dan Morain, I looked back at two of my own takes on Harris: when she ended her presidential campaign and when Joe Biden chose her to be Veep. I think they hold up pretty well. 

This incredibly accomplished woman is still unfinished, still becoming. I look forward to seeing what she makes of the next four years and beyond.

Friday cat blogging

I call it a laptop. Janeway would call it an impediment if she could speak.

The canvass work pants have proved valuable while this fur ball with claws matures into a cat.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

New time; many recurring tasks ...

So now what? Delight in the relief.

Joe Biden comes with a list:

  • COVID-19
  • the economy
  • systemic racism
  • and global warming 

Here's a good explainer on the first step on the toughest of the bunch.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

We all did this

Leastways, everyone I know did it, one way or another, in ways great and small, over the last four awful years. And let's not forget that. This is what should be celebrated -- amid pandemic, and rightwing thuggery, and crumbling empire.

This is ours.

Sure, there's plenty more to do. But we did this. For today, that is enough.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The empire decays; another beginning

Erudite Partner surveys our broken country as Joe Biden assumes office:

How can you tell when your empire is crumbling? Some signs are actually visible from my own front window here in San Francisco.

Directly across the street, I can see a collection of tarps and poles (along with one of my own garbage cans) that were used to construct a makeshift home on the sidewalk. Beside that edifice stands a wooden cross decorated with a string of white Christmas lights and a red ribbon—a memorial to the woman who built that structure and died inside it earlier this week. We don't know—and probably never will—what killed her: the pandemic raging across California? A heart attack? An overdose of heroin or fentanyl? ...

... Human beings have long built new habitations quite literally from the rubble—the fallen stones and timbers—of earlier ones. Perhaps it's time to think about what kind of a country this place—so rich in natural resources and human resourcefulness—might become if we were to take the stones and timbers of empire and construct a nation dedicated to the genuine security of all its people. Suppose we really chose, in the words of the preamble to the Constitution, “to promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
Can the aroused people who repudiated the particular corruption of the Trump era build something better? At this new beginning, we certainly want to let go our fears and follow our hopes. Read it all.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Martin Luther King holiday

The Martin Luther King holiday is unsettling. It should be. He tried to change the country at its core, to turn us away from the injustice of race hate and poverty. So we killed him. And we gave him a holiday which calls for "national service." I guess that's better than ignoring the man, but how much better?

My friend Dana has become a racial justice activist late in life. I was reminded of her response to another of our problematic holidays, the one about "bombs bursting in air." Her sentiments seem appropriate to this one too.

... it was the Fourth of July, and we did our usual things — a speaker spoke, we told another horrible story, we said the person’s name. And while I was kneeling, I thought about this song that I loved. A song I loved all my life, but that has never made a whole lot of sense. “America the Beautiful.” 
It was the Fourth of July, we finished saying their name. I walked out into the middle of the road, and I turned and faced everybody, I said, “You all know this song,” and sang “America the Beautiful.” When I was done, I said to them, “I know that I will never be able to, and I don’t think my children will ever be able to, but I can only hope that if they make it to my age, my grandchildren will be able to sing that beautiful song without the same sense of irony with which I just sang it: ‘God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.’” 
I don’t think so. I mean, it’s a wonderful idea, but it is potential that has been unmet. And that for me is really sad.

That's how I feel on the King holiday. But he didn't give up and neither can we.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

We've been warned

Someone who uses the Twitter name Alexis in Brexitland (@andevers) has a message for us who live in the disunited States. A slightly edited thread:

So, real talk to American friends. Start wearing your masks outside on the sidewalk if you are not. Start wearing them outside if there are people meters away. Start wearing them inside your house if there are others there. Wear them. The new variant transmits readily.

A great deal of people I know all got the new variant all at once -- at least one handful of people got it outside in a very legit allowed social distance park walk. ...

I am saying this because I can tell from talking to people back home that it hasn't really hit everyone how different it is. It's very different.

And really, I say this to everyone. The new variant is a doozy. ...

For months and months in fall, even as numbers climbed, I didn't know anyone with Covid. Then I knew a dozen all at once. And now I know about a dozen more. Just be careful.
I think it becomes very hard to avoid even if you do the right things now, if you interact with others at all. But the masks are definitely something.

If you are in a situation with others outside your home, even if you are in a bubble wear your masks. ...

Truthfully, I am selfish. I want the virus to go slower there than it did here, because all my older family is there, waiting on vaccines or second vaccines. Slow this down for them.

And for the hospitals and the workers. Everyone.

I submit this for your consideration, considering a lot more people don't have to die that will if we don't get better at masks and unnecessary going out. Etc. And that's it! I'm going to bed.


Saturday, January 16, 2021

It's big, it's bad, and political choices still matter

Until I read Adam Tooze's Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, the economic upsets of early 21st century global capitalism had mostly registered with me through the Wall Street melt down that confronted Barack Obama on taking office in 2009 and the grinding Great Recession of Main Street America that fed the resentments of his detractors. Somehow the Obama administration never seemed willing or able to turn its economic policies to the needs of ordinary citizens.

Oh, I knew that what seemed to begin with casino-gambling with home mortgages by the sleazier elements of US finance had somehow nearly brought down the whole world economy -- I read books that sought to decode what they had been doing. (Gillian Tett's was a good one.) And I encountered a Spain in 2013 where the economy was still somehow leveled by the backwash of these shenanigans. And I even knew all this somehow fed those pratfalls by English-speaking democracies in 2016: Brexit and electing Donald Trump.

But until I read Tooze -- he's an erudite Brit who has landed teaching history at Columbia -- I lacked a global picture to put all this together. Crashed does that. It's a masterly account of intricate financial systems and above all their dysfunctional politics. If you suspect any discussion of global capitalist economics is no more than a morass of high falutin jargon, you are usually not wrong -- but Tooze draws a path through vast swathes of human activity and suffering, of myopic leadership and occasional brilliance. I found it fascinating,

This is how Tooze introduces the grand scale of his subject matter:
The events of 2003, 2008, and 2017 are all no doubt defining moments  of recent international history. But what is the relationship among them? What is the relationship of the economic crisis of 2008 to the geopolitical disaster of 2003 [Iraq invasion] and to American's political crisis following the election of November 2016? What arc of historical transition do those three points stake out? What does that arc mean for Europe, for Asia? How does it relate to the minor but no less shattering trajectory traced by the United Kingdom from Iraq to the crisis of the City of London in 2008 and Brexit in 2016?
... the idea that was so prevalent in 2008, the idea that this was basically an American crisis, or even an Anglo-Saxon crisis, and as such a key moment in the demise of American unipolar power, is in fact deeply misleading. ... It pleased people around the world to imagine the hyper power was getting its comeuppance. ... Contrary to the narrative popular on on both sides of the Atlantic, the eurozone crisis is not a separate and distinct event, but follows directly from the shock of 2008. ...
Unexpectedly -- to rest of the world and possibly also to elements of the US political elite  -- the Obama administration and most critically the central Federal Reserve Bank, proved quite adept at saving floundering wealth institutions. Their prescription -- a sophisticated application of "print money" and give it away to rich people -- broke with academic economic orthodoxy, and succeeded. Ordinary citizens remained screwed -- but hey, at least the whole capitalist economy didn't grind to a halt.
However unprecedented and effective the Fed's actions might have been, even for those politicians whose support for globalization was unfailing, its practical implications were barely speakable. Though it is hardly a secret that we inhabit a world dominated by business oligopolies, during the crisis and its aftermath this reality and its implications for the priorities of government stood nakedly exposed. It is an unpalatable and explosive truth that democratic politics on both sides of the Atlantic has choked on. 
... America's crisis fighting exhibited massive inequity. People on welfare scraped by while bankers carried on their well-upholstered lives. But though the distribution of costs and benefits was outrageous, at least America's crisis management worked. Since 2009 the US economy has grown continuously and and least by the standards set by official statistics, it is now [pre-pandemic in 2018] approaching full employment.  
By contrast, the eurozone [the European Union countries that share a currency], through willful policy choices, drove tens of millions of its citizens into the depths of a 1930s-style depression. That tiny Greece, with an economy that amounts to 1-1.5 percent of EU GDP, should have been made the pivot of this disaster twists European history into the image of bitter caricature.
And then there's China, whose burgeoning capitalist command economy might also have been dragged down amid these flailings and which both wavered and grew exponentially. Nobody's financial elites look like geniuses in this telling

Until I read Tooze, I had no idea that Obama's foreign travels were usually more about trying to nudge bankers and global financial elites toward what the US thought was economic stability than about arms control, or recovering from the global opprobrium which George W Bush's wars had seeded, and or even climate change. It's an enlightening perspective.

None of this suggests happy prospects for economic justice, democracy, or even truth as Europe and America have known it.
It was the current president of the European Commission who announced in the the spring of 2011: "When it becomes serious, you have to lie." At least one might say, he knows what he is doing. If we believe Jean-Claude Juncker, a posttruth approach to public discourse is simply what the governance of capitalism currently demands.
In the 19th century, economics was sometimes labelled "the dismal science" because it was the study of why human beings would always lack for our basic needs, for food, clothing, and shelter. Modern global capitalism has proved capable of building the components for those needs beyond the wildest dreams of pre-capitalist economists, though it usually flunks the equitable distribution part of the problem.

The crux of Tooze's argument about the unfolding of the crisis of 2008 is that it turns out that contingency, accidents, and politics still matter despite the enormous scale and complexity of financial systems interwoven with modern states. It's possible that global capital has stamped out the possibility of democracy and we didn't notice. But also it's possible that's wrong.
There are ways of describing the operations of these systems that void the presence of politics. But if a history such as this has any purpose, it is to reveal the poverty of such accounts. Political choice, ideology and agency are everywhere across this narrative ... Success and failure, stability and crisis, can indeed pivot on particular moments of choice. ...

Not a bad thought as we enter a different, hopefully better, US political era ...

Friday, January 15, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Erudite Partner reports that spinning is not made easier by a good ear cleaning from Janeway's rough tongue.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

We need a new President's medal -- the Eugene Goodman Medal

It's small potatoes among twice-impeached Donald's crimes, but this is still a little sickening. The old celebrity chasing conman has been handing out Presidential Medals of Freedom to cronies. He especially favors honoring past-their-prime white sports icons like Lou Holtz, Jerry West, and Gary Player. (Still active NFL coach Bill Belicheck had the decency to turn the award down after this month's Capitol attack; he's a smart one, that crafty old survivor.) 

In the last few months, Trump has honored champions of political vitriol and vituperation: Rush Limbaugh, his current Congressional pitbull Rep. Jim Jordan, and that rather stupid fabricator of lies Rep. Devin Nunes. The Nunes medal citation is a masterpiece of the Trumpian bullshit: 

Devin Nunes’ courageous actions helped thwart a plot to take down a sitting United States president. Devin’s efforts led to the firing, demotion, or resignation of over a dozen FBI and DOJ employees. He also forced the disclosure of documents that proved that a corrupt senior FBI official pursued a vindictive persecution of General Michael Flynn — even after rank and file FBI agents found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Congressman Nunes pursued the Russia Hoax at great personal risk and never stopped standing up for the truth. He had the fortitude to take on the media, the FBI, the Intelligence Community, the Democrat Party, foreign spies, and the full power of the Deep State....

 After this sort of tripe, the Medal of Freedom has lost much luster.

My friend Ayse Sercan, writing on Facebook, has an idea:

For the last week the video clip of a Black officer being chased by a mob of white men has haunted me. I'm no fan of the cops in general, but in no way does that make the situation of a bunch of violent racists chasing a Black man any better.

Then I found out he had deliberately led them away from chambers to protect the people inside. A Black man *used his Black body* to protect white people who too often forget how they have benefited from systemic racism and the service of Black people, the sacrifice of Black bodies. While some of his white colleagues were participating in the riot and taking selfies with rioters. Now he has to fear for his safety and that of his family because terrorists know who he is.

I think we need a new medal, the Eugene Goodman Medal, which would replace the defiled Presidential Medal of Freedom. [My emphasis]

Here's Goodman's story as told by Rebecca Tan at the Washington Post. Apparently he's not the sort of fellow who would want the attention, but he deserves plenty of thanks for quick thinking and courage. He probably averted many deaths.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

The fear will linger ...

What happens to the psyches of members of legislative bodies who have experienced incursions by armed right-wing thugs screaming for their overthrow? Plenty, it seems.

Michigan statehouse in April. Photo by Jeff KowalskyAFP

Matt Shuham of Talking Points Memo interviewed members of the Michigan and Idaho legislatures who have endured gun-toting anti-coronavirus restriction protesters invading their space. 

“Now I’m like, ‘Well gosh, does it really make sense to get up and make a big speech about why I’m making this vote, or is that just going to land 50 armed guys terrorizing my family outside my House?’” said state Rep. Ilana Rubel, a Democrat and minority leader in the Idaho House of Representatives.

... State Rep. Donna Lasinski (D), minority leader in the Michigan House of Representatives, recalled sitting mere feet from the swinging doors that separated the House “and the men who were screaming and armed right outside our chamber” in April. 

She said the rage on display in Washington, D.C. last week recalled what she’d seen at her own workplace — “when you hear someone scream, and you hear the change in their voice that has moved them to a point where you feel like there’s no return, where you feel like violence is imminent.”

From the point of view of the thugs, intimidation is the point. And unless this kind of terrorism can be curbed, very few people are going to be willing to sign on to contest and hold elected office. And that means the terrorists win.

Watching this has reminded me that our Constitutional structure of government was not designed to be operated by professional politicians whose career path consisted of winning and holding elective office. The founding generation expected Congresscritters and their state analogues to be short-termers, white gentlemen taking a break from their plantations (South) or perhaps their law practices (North). 

Though political parties formed within a decade and professionalization rapidly followed (all that patronage for office holders to distribute!), it's worth remembering that eighty years after the founding, our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, had been merely a one-term Congressman who had retreated after a loss to a country law practice. He enjoyed continued prominence only thanks to the accident that the national party structure was reformulating itself to generate a new, anti-slavery, free labor party (the early Republicans). His equivalent of Twitter was a national lecture tour reinforcing the drive toward free-soil expansion of the nation to the west. And, having won the Presidency in 1860, he had to slink into Washington under threat of assassination in Baltimore before even taking office. In Lincoln, we lucked into a politician who believe in something beyond a career and paid the price.

People whose ambitions are simply to hold a cushy job and perhaps graduate to a lucrative lobbying career aren't going play in the political arena if it is perceived as more dangerous than prestigious. We have to make elective office safe enough to attract people who want to engage in public service without fear. Ideologues will come to the fore when temperatures remain as hot as they are today. 

Biden wasn't my guy by a long shot. But nothing is served by so breaking the structures of government that only ambitious monsters and monomaniacal zealots will take part. Let's hope he can calm the roiling seas.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

We need to hunker down

That huge black bubble over California representing current hospitalizations is properly alarming in this depiction from the COVID Tracking Project. The coronavirus is thriving among us.

Mission Local passed along a video exploring why new COVID cases took off after mid-October in San Francisco as authorities relaxed precautions.

According to Phoenix Data Project:

This data reveals that although San Francisco was doing relatively well controlling the pandemic, when indoor dining opened and cases numbers increased, SF made its big mistake. By not reversing reopening plans, ICU and case numbers increased, and SF experienced a large holiday surge.

Stay safe out there ...

Monday, January 11, 2021

America's mayor or America's next governor?

The headline reads "Bowser tells Americans to stay home for the inauguration." Good for District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser. If enough potential visitors listen, as seems likely, it will make it easier to separate the white supremacist militia boys planning another riot from the rest.

Locals may differ; they almost always do. (Don't expect me to applaud my mayor's coronavirus response, despite her national rep.) But from afar,  it seems Bowser's a done decent job in an impossible position and year, both in affirming Black Lives Matter and trying to bring order to a city abandoned by Donald Trump's federal government which controls most of the levers of power.

Certainly she supplants for the title that delusional conman from New York who had one good afternoon 20 years ago and now awaits a much needed pardon from his criminal client and overlord.

Bowser's legal inability to extract assistance from the feds and to command her own National Guard add to the case for DC statehood. I don't know if the Dems have enough votes to deliver; all it would take is a majority vote and presidential signature. But one or two lawmakers and the President himself could gum up the works, again.

Some facts about DC statehood: the new jurisdiction would immediately become the most Black state with currently something like a 46 percent Black population. Though that's a high proportion, it's nothing like the "chocolate" Washington that Erudite Partner grew up in during the 1960s -- truly an overwhelmingly Black city. 

DC's population is larger than that of Vermont and Wyoming.

Because DC is entirely an urban city center, the new state's GDP would be 1st per capita in the nation, and 1st by median household income. That doesn't mean everyone is Washington is rich. Poor residents (essential workers, perhaps?) have been pushed east across the Anacostia River where, in 2016, the poverty rate was 33 percent.

Residents of the District are U.S. citizens; they have long deserved their own state government.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

How to crush the Rebellion

That's what my Unionist ancestors would have called the white nationalist incursion at the Capitol last Wednesday. They were by no means "woke" or anti-racist, but they helped found the anti-slavery force that became the party of Lincoln. They didn't intend to be ruled forever by what they called "the Slave Power." When the southern states chose to break the country because Lincoln had affirmed that "government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free," those ancestors worked loyally for the Union war effort until the Confederacy was broken. They knew where the moral right lay.

I can bloviate long and vigorously about what I think ought to happen to our contemporary insurrectionists. But I think I'll hand that job off to San Francisco civil rights lawyer John Crew, writing on Facebook. I particulary appreciate the comprehensive scope of the sanctions he says we ought to bring to bear against the instigators as well as the perps. Here's Crew:

More attempted acts of insurrection may be imminent -- especially if the reaction to what has already taken place is not immediate, very strong and sustained. 
And, that reaction must be comprehensive. 
It must be political -- impeachment of the leader and inciter of the insurrection and, at minimum, official censure of the congressional enablers. 
It must be prosecutorial -- the punishments must fit the crimes and be more severe for those who do not turn themselves in. 
It must be professional -- disbarment, firings, expulsions from professional associations. 
It must be economic -- threatened boycotts and other pressure on business interests who remain complicit. (Hell, if the National Association of Manufacturers can break with Trump and the democracy-destroying lies that define Trumpism, anyone can.) 
It must be journalistic -- not just with relentless investigations and accountability pieces that name the insurrectionists and expose their roles but also with newly direct, no-bullshit, clarity and bluntness in how these events and those involved are described. 
It must be social -- people who openly seek to destroy democracy, who cannot or will not accept the core requirement of democratic citizenship that one MUST accept the equal legitimacy of all legally cast votes, and [must] peacefully accept legitimate electoral defeats, and/or who cannot accept the demographic certainty that this country's democratic power will continue to become ever more multi-cultural and less white must be shunned.

I would add that it must include the readiness of people to take to the streets and confront right wing hate groups who will surely be feeling a sugar high after their murderous stunt.

Further, the 147 Republicans in Congress who, after the attack on their citadel and persons, voted to throw out the clear verdict of the people in favor of Joe Biden, must be driven from office. If they had any decency, they would resign, but the votes Wednesday night gave them a a chance to repudiate sedition and they flunked it.

The people will have to do the job on most of these Congresscritters, rejecting them at their next election. That will be hard, but midterm elections are always tough for the party in power. With a Rebellion underway, lives depend on keeping Democrats in power in both houses of Congress. 

This cycle's success at turning Georgia blue shows that hard work by local organizers, with adequate financial support from outside, can increase participation and change outcomes. Georgia also showed that the work has to be ongoing; you can't just put up a campaign in the last six weeks and expect to swing elections.

Fortunately, the Cook Report has given democracy activists whose arena of struggle is elections what amounts to a target list of Republican offenders who voted to overthrow the election. Here's a small section of it, highlighting California's top target:

Mike Garcia's Congressional district is in Orange County. Anybody know who is doing the work of expanding and engaging the electorate in those parts?

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Weasel words

This is not the most important vexation in this moment, but this New York Times headline provoked me.

Either the Native American population dependent on the hospital were abandoned by the overlords of the U.S. Indian Health Service or that population is in the grip of a delusion. Which is it, Times? 

If you don't have an answer, you don't have a story. I wouldn't ask this of some amateur blog -- but the "newspaper of record" ...

Friday, January 08, 2021

Poverty kills

Our unhoused neighbor who had settled in across the street has died. There is no reason to suspect human foul play, just deprivation and possibly her own demons.

She made it as long as she did by projecting a fierce independence; don't mess with me, her whole bearing screamed. So we left her alone. She died alone in her tent.

Mission Local found neighbors who shared memories of Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Rieber.

Friday cat blogging

How many cats does it take to change a light bulb?

None. Cats can see in the dark. But they like ladders.