Sunday, February 28, 2021


I'm not willing to pretend that this was lawful.

Last week our new President delivered a 500 pound bomb "message."

Biden launched an air strike against the facilities of Iran-backed militias in Syria that have been launching rocket attacks against U.S. targets in Iraq. When asked today what message he was sending, he said: “You can’t act with impunity. Be careful.”

Uncharacteristically, a smidgen of me is sympathetic to what Biden claims to be doing here: he's emphasizing that, though he intends to put all he can into resurrecting the Obama-era "deal" that constrained Iranian development of a nuclear weapon, he's not taking lightly any adjacent provocations, especially threats to U.S. troops. Curbing an Iranian push for nukes is a good idea. And after a president who wouldn't do anything to respond Russia's putting a bounty out for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, a U.S. president might need to take a stand. 

But it remains worth mentioning that if U.S. troops weren't blundering about in tangled conflicts in other people's countries, there would be less need for such a show of force.

And there doesn't seem much doubt that Biden is continuing one of the worst features of a lawless chief executive: presidents aren't supposed to make war without authorization from Congress. Senators know this and also have mixed feelings.

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said Friday that Congress "must be fully briefed on this matter expeditiously," noting that "offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances."

Democratic Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations committee with Kaine, said that the recent strikes by Iranian-backed militias on Iraq bases were "unacceptable" and that he inherently trusts Biden's national security decision making ability. But he added that retaliatory strikes that are not necessary to "prevent an imminent threat, must fall within the definition of an existing" authorization for use of military force. 

"Congress should hold this administration to the same standard it did prior administrations, and require clear legal justifications for military action, especially inside theaters like Syria, where Congress has not explicitly authorized any American military action," said Murphy.

California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna reacted more bluntly.

"This makes President Biden the seventh consecutive US president to order strikes in the Middle East. ... There is absolutely no justification for a president to authorize a military strike that is not in self-defense against an imminent threat without congressional authorization."

Here in the U.S. we don't think much about this (comes of being an empire) but this airstrike violated international law. So explains Rutgers Law professor Adil Ahmad Haque at Just Security:

The U.S. airstrikes almost certainly violated international law, for two basic reasons. The airstrikes did not repel an ongoing armed attack, halt an imminent one, or immediately respond to an armed attack that was in fact over but may have appeared ongoing at the time ... And the airstrikes were carried out on the territory of another State, without its consent, against a non-State actor (or two, or more)... These two reasons, combined, are decisive. It cannot be lawful to use armed force on the territory of another State when it is clear that no armed attack by a non-State actor is ongoing or even imminent.

It's very difficult for this country to understand that we can't claim to be essential pillars of "the international liberal order" if we ignore the legal apparatus that order has fostered when we find it convenient.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Pandemic blues

I had a telemedicine appointment yesterday. There's nothing acute wrong with me that I know of, just a few aches as might be expected of a somewhat used body. But Medicare expects me to have an annual check-up (or in this case check-in) and my doc plays by the rules.

So we checked in and agreed there was nothing much to be done for me. She's been my doc for half a decade, but we aren't close. But, just to be decent, I asked her whether the pandemic has been crazy for her.

Immediately, her anguish and rage came pouring out. I've never seen her so animated. She almost cried. She's at home, with two kids under ten, out of school now for nearly a year.  They don't take well too zoom. The San Francisco Unified School District can't seem to open even for the little ones. She'd never thought this could happen, but maybe they'll have to go to a private school if she can find one. Meanwhile her employer expects her to see patients both by telemedicine and half-time in person and she's at her wits end.

All I could say was "Hang in there ..." And wonder whether San Francisco parents might indeed recall our foot-dragging School Board.

• • •

Washington Post pundit Molly Roberts offered some musings for this awkward pandemic in-between time, when some of us are fully vaccinated, some have had one shot so far (that's me), and most are still wondering when there will be enough of the magic elixir to reach them. Not to mention the considerable number who don't intend to be vaccinated.

We’ve silently written laws for responsible but tolerable existence over the past year. Now, we are in the process of amending them to accommodate a more nuanced reality.

... We’ve stayed sane so far because we’ve lived this lonely life together. Maybe that’s why officials are so reluctant to tell the vaccinated they now have a pass. Everything might fall apart when we stop asking everyone to sacrifice.

... We’ve spent a spring, summer, fall and winter calibrating our socially distanced lives, and now another spring has arrived and we’re beginning again. The yeses, noes and maybes are changing — but some of them are only changing for the vaccinated, and others of them can’t change as fully as they might so long as the unvaccinated remain. Yes, you can go to the grocery store now if you’re vaccinated, but still limit your time and your trips. No, you can’t throw out your mask, no matter what.

... Socially distancing we’ve finally figured out; socially sort-of distancing from some and socially even-less distancing from others will prove a puzzle.

... And this isn’t only a concern of figuring out what is safe, but also of relearning how to behave. ... Back to normal, when we make it there, won’t feel normal at all.
Let us all just get there as soon as can be ...

Friday, February 26, 2021

Friday cat blogging

She's not a big reader, but she's quite the explorer, seeking out strange new nooks and crannies.

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Re-election preview

For all my friends who have worked on getting out the vote in Nevada -- guess what's coming: the re-election campaign of U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Republicans have the knives out for her.

The first Latina to serve in the U.S. Senate, Cortez Masto defeated Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) in 2016 by just a little more than two percentage points — and her 2022 race is also expected to be tight. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which exists to elect more Republicans to the Senate, released its first ad of the cycle against Cortez Masto last week.

Hard working UniteHERE doorknockers attribute her victory in 2016 to their turnout work for Hillary Clinton -- who also carried the Silver State by a sliver.

In my very short canvassing experience in that year, it seemed rare in Reno to meet a voter who'd heard of Cortez Masto, then the state attorney general. But they voted for Hillary and Cortez Masto came along for the ride.

Since then, Cortez Masto has become a rising star, heading the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) (the fundraising committee) during the 2020 election cycle.

Here's her announcement video:

Democrats cannot afford to lose any Senate seats in 2022.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Will we recall Gov. Gavin?

It looks more and more as if Californians may face a recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom, probably in November of this year.

Having lived through the Gray Davis recall in 2003, I'll pass along a few observations:
• It looks as if the standard collection of right wing kooks -- "vaccine opponents, QAnon followers and other denizens of the far fringes of American politics" --  started this effort.  It's their 6th(!) since Newsom's election in 2018. They have achieved lift-off thanks to an extended signature gathering period and the frustrations of the pandemic. We'll find out by the end of April whether they've collected enough valid signatures, but they seem to be on track. 
• In November 2020, Trump won 34 percent of the vote in California. To oust Newsom, recall proponents have to find a lot more voters than that. Are independents mad enough to go for this? Will Dems stay home?
• Despite Newsom's fumbling and bumbling of coronavirus measures -- and his unmasked dinner with lobbyists at the French Laundry while we sheltered in place -- his popularity is still around 50 percent. 
• A recall election has two parts: one vote on whether we want to toss the incumbent and, if the first passes, a free-for-all vote to replace him. In 2003, 135 people threw their names in the hat (the filing fee is cheap) and Arnold Schwarzenegger won with 48 percent of the vote. 
• You can't beat something with nothing. So far, only the Republican Newsom demolished in 2018 (John Cox) and the former Republican mayor of San Diego (Kevin Faulconer) have offered themselves as replacement governors. There will be many more if this comes to pass.   
• A recall election is, officially, just an ordinary state election. This means that other measures -- initiative propositions -- can appear on the recall ballot. I know that because in 2003 we fought off Prop. 54 which would have prevented California authorities from collecting the demographic information which tells us that Black and Latinx communities are getting hammered by COVID. As far as I can figure out from the California Secretary of State's website the only initiative that might be ready to go this fall (and that may not be required to go to a vote until 2022) is a tobacco industry effort to repeal the ban on flavored tobacco products.
California's conventional pundits don't think a recall would succeed. Dan Morain (who wrote the inevitable book on Kamala Harris) gives a recall low odds:
Voters are cranky now. That could change by the fall if people are vaccinated, kids are back in school and the economy is on the mend. If all that happens, Newsom could rightly take credit and emerge stronger politically. And in California, the party of Trump would continue its downward slide.
I've never been a Gavin Newsom fan, but I cannot imagine the circumstances in which I would vote to recall him ...

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Media consumption diet: here comes Substack

Digital communications guru Howard Rheingold reminds us all:

"Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention."

When I looked in my email this morning, I realized I had a half dozen substantive newsletters waiting for me ... and realized it was time to write another one of these media consumption diet posts. So where do I get my news these days?

Over the last couple of years, I've given up and accepted that if I want quality online journalism, I have to pay for it. And given how little of anything else I've had to spend money on this pandemic year, I've gone hog wild on supporting journalism/paying for subs. So these days, I pay for the Washington Post, the New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Atlantic, and the New Yorker.  I donate dollars/memberships/subscriptions to probably 20 other web-available journalistic outfits, from my neighborhood's Mission Local to Open Democracy. 

Since I've set myself up to have access to so many periodicals and other sources, how do I decide what to read first? I can't, and don't want, to read everything. Some of choices are topical: I keep an eye on election information, follow my country's imperial adventures, and am curious about the sociology of U.S. religion. I'm always interested in demographics and in struggles for more justice. I don't chase stories of outrages for outrage's sake, but if activism can accomplish something, I want to know what people are doing.

But I've made so much web based information accessible to myself, that I've had to figure out what to bother to check out and what to skip. And I realize that more and more I follow particular individual commentators, particular bylined writers, that I've learned to trust. If they move on from one outlet to another, I'm likely to follow. For example, I subscribe to The New Republic to keep up with Walter Shapiro. And I pay for New York Magazine for Olivia Nuzzi and Rebecca Traister. 

I'm consistently furious with the New York Times because I have to click on anything they categorize as a news story to find out who wrote it; other newspapers give the byline in the teaser. I would think the NYT union would be hopping mad, but I guess the prestige of writing for the Times overrides that slight to the authors. The other newspapers don't put me through that.

All of which brings me to the morning haul of email newsletters: I''m now following quite a few writers from whom I can learn, or who I enjoy, onto the Substack newsletter platform.

Anna Wiener explored Substack's business model for the New Yorker in December. From the consumer point of view, Substack is a medium through which to pay for and read email newsletters from writers I've discovered elsewhere -- usually on more recognizable journalistic platforms. This fits very well with how I read in other venues. Wiener is skeptical; she rightly observes that the form largely works for writers who have already established themselves elsewhere. 

But for the moment, I'm finding various Substacks satisfying. I use them to keep up with people who annoy me (Matt Yglesias via Slow Boring and Yascha Mounk via Persuasion come to mind) but who nonetheless make my horizons wider. I read Heather Cox Richardson (Letters from an American) putting current events in U.S. historical perspective with pure pleasure. I read David Roberts (Volts) because nobody explains climate change better. I'm grateful to Peter Beinart for being honest about U.S. empire and also about Israel/Palestine. Ditto Tony Karon. Nadia Bolz-Weber and Diana Butler Bass expand my religious sensibilities. 

Yes, all this adds up. I'm not sure how long I'll keep it up. I'm not sure how well the Substack phenomenon will hold up either; these people are out on their own creating a lot of content with little support. 

Media changes -- that's why I like to review my media consumption diet every few years.

Monday, February 22, 2021

We've got our work cut out for us in 2022

The diligent election nerds at DailyKos Elections have completed their calculation of the 2020 presidential results for all 435 House seats nationwide. That is, if the district elected a Democrat, did it also go for Biden? -- or vice versa.

Click to enlarge.
Obviously the most competitive seats next time around are those which show a split decision. They summarize:

Biden carried 224 congressional districts while Donald Trump prevailed in 211. That's very close to the 222-213 split between House Democrats and Republicans that emerged from the November elections, which is due to the fact that both parties occupy a similar number of so-called "crossover" districts: Seven Democrats hold seats that Trump won while nine Republicans represents districts that went for Biden.

The number of crossover districts—16 in total—is extremely low by historical standards ...

They've been doing these calculations every two years since 2009. 

In California, two Biden seats won by Republicans in 2020 stand out as targets. 

  • District 21 (David Valadao) is located in the Central Valley west of Fresno. It's gone back and forth between the parties based on turnout for the last couple of cycles; Democrats need to find a way to reliably turn out the registered base here.
  • District 25 (Mike Garcia) in eastern Orange County went Democratic in 2018, then flipped Republican by less than a 500 votes in November 2020. Garcia stands out as having voted against certifying Electoral College results on January 6 and then against impeachment. That is, he has signed on with the election fraud hoax and the sedition caucus. The losing candidate in 2020 was Christy Smith. Don't know whether there will be a contested primary for the Democratic nomination next year.

I'd love not to think about the next election, but if we've learned anything over the last few years, it has been we can't leave these matters to the professional politicians.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The futile war

Not for the first time, but for the umpteenth time since 2001, headlines like this are proliferating.

We Must Accept that Afghanistan is Lost

Or, from a newsletter targeted at military and vets:

The proverbial ‘fall of Saigon’ is fast approaching in Afghanistan: Upbeat talk of Afghan forces being “better than we thought they were” may soon be put to the test.

Over ten years ago, I posted this iconic photo of the last U.S. personnel evacuating Saigon in 1975. It seemed appropriate to how our Afghanistan war was going then. Could the most militarily powerful country on the globe really be driven out? Apparently yes, then. It still seems on point. Time to get the hell out of Afghanistan! No good is being served.

Whatever we thought we could do in that faraway country, it is not now and never happening. Once we made the place inhospitable to Osama bin Laden, we never even truly figured out our objectives -- and more Afghans, and allied soldiers, and U.S. troops died -- for what end?

World Beyond War has a new campaign addressed to the governments which can make this stop:

The governments of Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Ukraine, UK, and US all still have troops in Afghanistan and need to remove them.

These troops range in number from Slovenia’s 6 to the United States’ 2,500. Most countries have fewer that 100. Apart from the United States, only Germany has over 1,000. Only five other countries have more than 300.

Governments that used to have troops in this war but have removed them include New Zealand, France, Jordan, Croatia, North Macedonia, and Ireland.

We plan to deliver a big THANK-YOU to every government that removes all of its troops from Afghanistan, along with the names and comments of every signer of this petition.

We also plan to deliver a demand to remove all troops to every government that has not done so....

If you sign petitions, you probably need to sign this one -- and to get across to the Biden administration that the human cost of blundering on is too great to justify taking a small political hit for losing something we never had.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Trump putsch: a job for old men?

The Capitol insurrectionists of January 6 were overwhelmingly white and predominantly male. That much is obvious from pictures and from common sense. But the ones so far identified share another characteristic that seems surprising. It would not be accurate to say they were mostly "really" old -- but they were decidedly not young.

According to the Atlantic, the source of this chart:
... the demographic profile of the suspected Capitol rioters is different from that of past right-wing extremists. The average age of the arrestees we studied is 40. Two-thirds are 35 or older ...
And that's a little bizarre. Revolutionists who storm an established regime are almost always young.  Think of the crowds of Egyptians who occupied Tahrir Square in 2011, dooming the longtime dictator Mubarak. Or of the crowds who tried to preserve democracy in Hong Kong last year. 

Or, for that matter, think of the Founding Fathers who fought the American Revolution. In 1776, those major military leaders, Marquis de Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton, were 18 and 21 respectively. The political leadership was only a little older: John Jay, 30, Thomas Jefferson, 33, John Hancock, 39, John Adams, 40. And the patriarch of them all, General Washington, was all of 44.

News accounts keep surfacing of insurrection participants who might really be called old.

• A husband and wife planned their role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack with a group of Oath Keepers, federal prosecutors alleged in charging documents filed Thursday. Sandra Parker, 60, and her husband Bennie Parker, 70, were allegedly affiliated with the same group of Oath Keepers militia members that has already been indicted on conspiracy charges for the alleged planning they did before participating in the riot. 
• ... [one arrestee] was 70-year-old Lonnie Coffman, an Alabama man who authorities say brought a car full of weapons and explosives to Washington, D.C.

What the hell is going on with these members of my Boomer cohort? Feelings of activist desperation  often recede as we age. And these folks don't seem to have acquired the tempering judgement that often accompanies mere time on the planet.

Sure, they belong to Trump's cohort of aggrieved white people who believe they remember a time when their kind was top of the pyramid. Their memories are distorted by bigotry, but I can easily imagine them watching the Biden inauguration festivities and thinking -- this is not my culture; where do these people come from? Their kind lost pop cultural hegemony decades ago; I often think a feeling of cultural loss is a lot of what makes middle class white people such suckers for the politics of resentment.

A Huffington Post article about younger people trying, and failing, to detach their parents from the QAnon conspiracy theory, offers some further insight. If anyone you know is QAnon-believing or QAnon-curious, I cannot recommend this story too highly. Here's a sample of what unhappy relatives are learning about their loved ones:

‘I Miss My Mom’: Children Of QAnon Believers Are Desperately Trying To Deradicalize Their Own Parents

... Kara, a 46-year-old health care worker in the Midwest, said her mom’s descent into QAnon was gradual at first but accelerated once she retired. Now it’s out of control.

“My mom’s the most giving, wonderful person. Or, she was,” Kara said. “This has taken over her life.” 
... Kara’s mother went to college and worked in health care. The belief that she must be uneducated is a dangerous misunderstanding of how people fall into QAnon — which in many cases has less to do with intelligence than with circumstantial vulnerability. 
Fear and confusion are major drivers of conspiratorial thinking; a key reason why QAnon’s allure skyrocketed early in the pandemic is because droves of panicked people were desperate for answers about the coronavirus that expert authorities couldn’t immediately provide. QAnon quickly conjured up its own twisted version of events, tactically affirming people’s fears while seeding suspicion of credible information sources. (QAnon is also a common destination for white supremacists, whose racism can’t be explained away by their educational status.)
Has the pandemic combined with racism to create a group of frightened old people who ended up idolizing Trump and attacking the Capitol? So it seems. Can they be helped back to reality? Not so easy.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Janeway is indeed a bold explorer, poking into wherever she can find. One moment there's a lump in the blanket; the next claws emerge. There was a bag on floor ...

Thursday, February 18, 2021

All fall down

Someone who uses the name Roughroad catches the ironic flavor of the moment:

"It was demolished perfectly. It's the best demolition ever. No demolition has ever been done this great.

It was controlled. It was the best control of any demolition ever done. "

People paid the unhappy town of Atlantic City for the best viewing platforms yesterday. Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Turning, turning ...

This Ash Wednesday, I'm reminded of Sara Miles' delicious little book, City of God: Faith in the Streets about living and loving in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood -- and meeting her neighbors while distributing ashes on the streets. Not going to be any of that this pandemic year. Too bad.

Here are some tidbits for the day:

Repentance, in Christian practice, is not a psychological or an emotional process. “Feelings,” [the Rev.] Paul [Fromberg] declared once when I brought him some intractable problem with a troubled parishioner, “are stupid.” I thought he must be joking, but Paul insisted. “Jesus doesn’t care if you feel guilty. Jesus wants you to change.” Neither is repentance about simply saying you’re sorry. “That’s just apology,” explained Paul, “which is about etiquette. Repentance is about rebirth. It means putting on your big-girl panties and facing the world to do things differently.”
Repentance means turning toward other human beings, our own flesh and blood, whenever they’re oppressed, hungry, or imprisoned; it means acting with compassion instead of indifference. It means turning away, “fasting,” from any of the little and big things that can keep us from God—drugs, religion, busy-ness, video games, lies—and accepting the divine embrace with all our hearts. Repentance requires paying attention to others, and learning to love, even a little bit, what God loves so much: the whole screwed-up world, this holy city, the people God created to be his own.

Highly recommended for the Lenten season and cheap too -- my Amazon says the kindle edition is a mere .69. 

I am a fan of the Christian season of Lent, of having a regular annual observance devoted to turning away from hyper-activity and toward Goodness in all its manifestations and forms.

The Episcopal collect (short prayer) we use each Ash Wednesday contains the assertion that is central to all I know of this stuff:

God hates nothing that God has made ...

Here's to a blessed Lent if such is your thing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Pandemic rollercoaster

I had stashed this found image away, after hearing that friends and loved ones were getting their shots rapidly. Maybe I'd never have to use it?

A new vaccination site had opened at City College, Moscone Center (where we got ours) was chugging along, the Capp Street site in the Mission was jabbing folks from the neighborhood.

And now this: 

San Francisco will pause vaccinations at Moscone Center and City College as supplies run out

The City blames the State. The State blames the Feds. The Feds apparently say there is just not enough vaccine. They are probably all correct. 

Somehow, we have to keep from taking our frustration out on each other. 

Meanwhile, drug companies have made themselves socially useful for a change. Think about this account of vaccine trials from Dr. Ashish K. Jha on twitter:

If we can organize ourselves, despite all the imperfections of the system, we can at least expect that people won't die of this thing.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Cities for profit, not for people

Samuel Stein wanted to know why there was so little housing available to poor and working class people in New York City. To make a longer story short, he went to city planner school, studied the various iterations of that discipline, and looked into patterns of development and displacement in his home place -- all amid the additonal distortions furthered by Donald Trump's rapacious real estate empire. Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State is the product of Stein's investigation.

I found the book interesting -- but was reminded that, though there is a national pattern to housing scarcity, in the end housing fights are local.

The most useful part of Stein's story is his succinct description of what economic realities make the present gentrified cities close to inevitable. Gentrification is what happens when industrial production moved out of US cities, whether to lower wage states or to even lower wage countries. When industry made things in US cities, capital had an interest in having workers living nearby. No longer.

And then in older cities you get gentrification:
By definition, gentrification cannot happen everywhere. It is the third stage in a long-term process of capital flow in and out of space: first comes investment in a built environment; second, neighborhood disinvestment and property abandonment; and third, reinvestment in that same space for greater profits. The key to understanding why some spaces gentrify is the amount of money that a landowner -- who effectively owns a monopoly on all rents from a particular geographic location -- can expect to generate from a given lot and the building atop it. Real estate speculators choose to invest in a particular location because they identify a gap between the rents that land currently offers and the potential future rents it might command if some action were taken, such as evicting long-term tenants, renovating neglected or unstylish properties, or demolishing and reconstructing buildings.
And then you get what Stein calls "the Real Estate State." Developers run the city and it becomes nearly impossible for mere residents to make themselves heard through politics.  Sound familiar to any of my Mission neighbors?

This isn't Stein's topic, but even the business section of the New York Times knows that after gentrification's rising rents (using "rents" not in the economist sense of value extracted but in the everyday sense of what you pay the landlord), homelessness balloons.
... Frustrating as this is for prospective home buyers, the real pain is felt among low-income tenants, a quarter of whom — about 11 million U.S. households — are already spending more than half their pretax income on rent. As rising costs filter through the market and the rent burden gets more severe, food budgets get squeezed, families double up and the most vulnerable end up on the streets.
In city after city, studies have shown that homelessness has a distinct financial tipping point. As soon as the local rent burden reaches the point where renters on average spend more than a third of their income on housing, the number of people on the streets starts to rise sharply, according to researchers at Zillow and elsewhere.
So here we are. It's fashionable these days to say the high price of housing in cities derives from NIMBYism which prevents building of more units whose availability would, in some time frame, drive down prices, reducing the housing price crunch.

Well maybe. I'm convinced that more density would make better cities. But how come, in the real world, developers always target for big projects places where a lot of poor people will be displaced if they are allowed to dig up the community? Because they know who is likely to lack the political power to constrain their drive for unconscionable profits. So cities suffer endless land use fights and little gets built.

I know a little more after reading Samuel Stein -- but I know more from having lived inside this sad dynamic for most of the last 50 years.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

A personal response to impeachment and acquittal

Erudite Partner and I are different. Together we face the horror of living in a country seemingly addicted to anger, where a substantial minority of our fellow citizens over and over choose white supremacy and selfishness over inclusive community. But we've learned different responses.

Her response to cruelty and injustice is immediate, strong, and brave. She feels the barrage of lies as an attack, but has taught herself to overcome the insult in order to act. And then she acts across a range of possibilities, from struggling against our government's addiction to torture to joining an electoral campaign.

My responses to cruelty and injustice, and to the falsehoods, are different. My sensibilities are not so incisive. Sometimes it can require of me more reflection to see clearly what I should deplore. When I do react, and then act, I can turn cold and hard, readying myself to deliver some kind of rebuke. I hope I am an ethical actor. I'm not always easy to be around when I move into what one of my mentors called "campaign mode."

I'm no Nancy Pelosi, but I completely resonate with what she told the Washington Post: after the January 6 insurrection: 

“I have a responsibility to be, as I say, passionate about what’s happening, but dispassionate about how to deal with it,” Pelosi said. “So I almost have to remove myself immediately from the emotion of it all.”
Given my instincts, I think all of us might do well to respond to a setback to democracy and decency, such as the impeachment acquittal, by trying to understand how to hurt the miserable excuses for human beings who are the Republican leadership and office holders -- how to hurt them where they can be hurt -- by taking their power away.

All of us, whatever our different responses to nightmarish turns of events at the Capitol and in the Senate, have some things going for us:

  • We just did something huge. Please remember, millions of us rallied and defeated not only Donald Trump, but defended the House majority and won a tenuous majority in the Senate. The Biden administration is doing the job we elected it for: delivering as much healthy governance as is possible within a broken, messy system.
  • Some good majority of the public (polls say in the high 50s) understood that Trump had done deep wrong by inspiring his mob to attack the Capitol. Much of corporate America doesn't want to be onboard with the Republican knuckle draggers and say they won't pony up cash for the campaigns of those who chose to side with Trump. We can keep it that way; money can be encouraged to be sensitive to the reputational damage of associating with crooks and cowards.
  • Donald Trump isn't out of the woods because he got off. An array of federal and state prosecutors have plenty to look at and they will. And ordinary individuals, for example police officer victims of Trump's mob, can sue the instigator in chief. The evidence of his complicity has been laid out. The immunity he enjoyed as president is gone and the guy has plenty of aggrieved victims. Hey, maybe even E. Jean Carroll may win something out of him for the rape.
  • And finally, we must build to keep Dems in power in 2022, however imperfect their governance will be. When the alternative is fascism, only a big tent stretching from the center-right through the far left makes any sense. No fun, but true. I'm sure I'll be writing here about the multitude of actions we can take to make this happen. But I can share my first one: I responded to the acquittal by setting up a small monthly donation to the Wisconsin Democratic Party. They've demonstrated competence, seem to understand that organizing is a year-round job, and have a vulnerable Republican Senate target in Ron Johnson coming up for re-election.

Speaking for myself, nothing heals like kicking a little Republican butt.

Image source.


A decade ago, diligent journalistic digging brought to light the hidden story of how researchers at John Hopkins University had appropriated unusual cancer cells taken from a poor Black Baltimore woman, Henrietta Lacks. They used these in cancer and other studies, without meaningful consent or compensation to Lacks or her surviving family. She died of her disease; her cells, named HeLa by the doctors, lived on in medical research.

The story of this unexamined appropriation of a woman's body parts for science and profit raised up profound failures of scientific and medical ethics. Lacks' descendants eventually won some compensation; the journalist, Rebecca Skloot, founded the Henrietta Lacks Foundation which has used its funds to provide grants to poor people of color who are survivors of medical exploitation.

The Foundation mission statement:

to promote public discourse concerning the role that contributions of biological materials play in scientific research and disease prevention, as well as issues related to consent, and disparities in access to health care and research benefits, particularly for minorities and underserved communities.
In this time of coronavirus threat, the Lacks family has stepped out to encourage vaccinations, despite their own history with medical exploitation. Nobody knows better that doctors sometimes aren't your friends -- and nobody knows better that if medical help becomes available, it's good to get some.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Electrify everything

The people who actually know anything about how this society might end our dependence on dirty fossil fuels and still have energy for living are chanting "Electrify Everything" these days. 

Here's David Roberts reporting on the proposals of MacArthur genius Saul Griffith at Vox last summer:

The fastest way to decarbonize is to electrify everything

Griffith begins with a core assumption: We need to make a plan to solve the problem with the tools available. It is unwise, for instance, to bet on a large amount of carbon capture and sequestration coming online in time to make a difference. The technologies are still in the early stage and there are strong arguments they will never pencil out.

Griffith takes a “yes, and” approach. If carbon capture sequestration works out, great. If next-gen nuclear reactors work out, great. If hydrogen-based fuels work out, great. But we shouldn’t rely on any of them until they are real. We need to figure out how to do the job with the technology available.

On that score, Griffith’s modeling reaches two key conclusions.

First, it is still possible to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions in line with a 1.5°C pathway. Specifically, it is possible to reduce US emissions 70 percent to 80 percent by 2035 (and to zero by 2050) through rapid electrification, relying on five already well-developed technologies: wind and solar power plants, rooftop solar, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and batteries.

Think of those technologies as the infrastructure of 21st century life. If everyone uses carbon-free energy to heat their homes and get around, the bulk of the problem will be solved.

Second, to decarbonize in time, substitution of clean-energy technologies for their fossil-fuel counterparts must ramp up to 100 percent as fast as possible, after a brief period of industrial mobilization. Every time a gas or diesel car is replaced, it must be replaced with an EV; every time an oil or gas furnace is replaced, it must be replaced with a heat pump; every time a coal or gas power plant goes offline, it must be replaced with renewable energy....

Roberts is always worth reading. These days his sophisticated understanding of climate possibilities can be found at Volts.  

With these thoughts rumbling about at the back of my mind, it was fascinating to encounter a small corner of San Francisco that was built on these principles -- 70 years ago. At the top of Diamond Heights, there are several streets where in front of each building, embedded in the sidewalk, there is one of these markers.

The Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation in Olympia, WA explains: 

... General Electric provided the main support for the program, which launched in March of 1956.

At the time, utility companies were rushing to meet the increased demand for electricity in postwar America.  However, as more power plants came on line the cost of electricity decreased.  To increase company profits, homeowners were encouraged to consume more power through the purchase of a variety of electric products. For GE and Westinghouse, the creation of a new market for electric heat also promised to increase company profits.  Additionally, the two corporations not only sold residential electric heating units and a variety of household appliances, but they also sold electrical generating equipment to  utility companies nationwide.

Supported nationwide by 900+ electric utilities and 180 electricity manufacturers, the electricity industry launched the Live Better Electrically campaign through a variety of media outlets. The initial launch came with the offer to send a free 70+ page brochure to homeowners which told them how their lives could be enriched by the use of electricity and purchase of electric appliances.

In the "Mad Men" era, the push to get people to prefer electricity naturally required branding. Hence the Medallion Home markers and such ads as these from Better Homes and Gardens magazine in 1958.

Today maybe smart -- make that essential -- climate change adaptations just need better advertising? Some government seed money might help as well, but we can be sure the electric company giants of the 1950s got plenty of that assistance as well.

The Biden administration seems serious about climate.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Friday cat blogging

It's hip these days to make fun of San Francisco's bounty of window signs. See also Ezra Klein. He's got a point; we're not the paragons of liberal governance we'd like to pretend. But I like some of these signs. 

And I sure wouldn't want to live in some suburb where everyone hides their opinions.

Encountered while Walking San Francisco.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

New stars and an enduring problem

I can't blame anyone who hopes never to have to think about Trump's bloody attempted coup and the hypocrisy of his Republican enablers again. Politicians on GOPer side of the aisle remain largely morally repulsive, corrupted by lust for power. They mostly will see no evil, because seeing condemns their corrupt choices.

But I urge watching as much of the recorded impeachment indictment as you can stomach. The team of House Managers is putting on a virtuoso display of principled legal and ethical competence. After four years of dishonest, blunderbuss government, it's healing.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi deserves credit for selecting this team. Let's hope we are seeing the future Congressional leadership. It's about time for a new generation to take over on the Democratic side; I could be thoroughly happy about some mix of these folks. They've been around long enough to know their way around that quirky institution, navigating within the inevitable diversity of a big tent political party in a huge country. But we don't have to worry they'll keel over.

And hey, can't we just add the Virgin Islands as a state so Stacey Plaskett can be a voting member instead of a non-voting delegate? 

Congress is something of a gerontocracy. Lots of senior members, not many younger folks. It's time to replace my generation. Here's a visual representation of the ages of members of the current Congress. Boomers still prevail.

As usual, click to enlarge. The source is an interactive graphic that's worth exploring.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

What Trump has wrought

If you haven't seen it, you do have to watch it. All 13 minutes of it. Sorry about that.

I was surprised at how distressing I found it. I'm so old, I've been in crowds that occupied buildings to make a political point (Vietnam-era protests, among others). I know that surge of amazement and slight consternation when suddenly you find yourself inside what you've experienced as the impenetrable center of an evil power. I'm sure many in the Capitol were in that state of mind.

But I didn't enter to kill and maim. I didn't want to kill the police standing in my way; I wanted them to stand aside. When we took what we thought of as the authority's fortress, we wanted to be heard. (And subsequent historical judgements largely agree we were right about the evil of that war.)

The leaders of Trump's crowd invaded the Capitol with a purpose: to overthrow the democratic verdict of the people for their leader by any means necessary. And their followers? They were there because Mr. Trump told them to go ... that's what they tell us.

Sure, Trump's on trial in the Senate. But really, the Republican Senators are on trial. Will they agree that it's okay to try to overturn the results of a legitimate election by inciting a mob? That's what an acquittal will mean. 

• • •

A couple of days ago I shared a film about how the prosecutors at Nuremberg used video during the trial of the Nazi war criminals. They wanted the world to see the trial itself and the filmed evidence of their crimes. And they wanted the defendants to have to look at that evidence. Many were visibly horrified. The perpetrators had tried to preserve their innocence of what their regime had done.

Heather Cox Richardson reports that Republican senators did their best to avoid taking in the enormity of what their guy has done. 

Republican senators who have been defended Trump know it. During the video of the insurrection, Trump supporters Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) looked at papers on their desks, Rick Scott (R-FL) looked at papers on his lap, and Rand Paul (R-KY) doodled.
They are being asked to throw down, to reveal how much more complicit with the choice to overthrow the will of the people they wish to show themselves. There is as yet no indication they will rise to that challenge.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021


Lalo captures the particular line of bullshit Republican defenders of the former president are slinging today.

I get it. I don't want to think about Trump any further either. But it is the duty of the House impeachment managers to use the trial to tell the truths of the man's crimes against our system of law and against democracy. They must try to create a record for history. 

Republican senators deserve to be put on the spot:

The real choice they face is not between sticking with Trump or going against him. Rather, it’s between sticking with Trump or remaining faithful to their oath of office, which requires them to defend the Constitution against those who would undermine or destroy it, and to the oath of impartiality they take as impeachment jurors.

Trump tried to overthrow U.S. democracy to keep himself in power illegitimately, first through corrupt legal efforts, then through nakedly extralegal means, and then by inciting intimidation and violence to disrupt the constitutionally designated process for securing the peaceful conclusion of free and fair elections.

Trump fully intended to subvert the constitutional process designating how our elections unfold, and intended this every step of the way. GOP senators cannot remain “loyal” to Trump without breaking their oaths to execute their public positions faithfully.

-- Greg Sargent
I can applaud what may seem a couple of days of wasted Senate time -- for the sake of the record.

Despite the arrival of an adult in charge ...

With Joe Biden safely in office, it's still a scary planet. Erudite Partner surveys our apocalyptic prospects amid nuclear weapons and climate catastrophe. 

The Fire Next Time Climate Change, the Bomb, or the Flame of Hope?

Monday, February 08, 2021

Getting jabbed

Got my first vaccine shot today; no pain and little hassle.

What did I learn?

If you are in California, try MyTurn/CA to schedule an appointment. YMMV, but it was quick and easy for me.

Friendly "Team" members led thousands of us through Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. All the directions were clear and correct; the team had obviously thought through the logistics thoroughly, while keeping us 6 feet apart and making provision for seating during the required 15 minutes post shot, awaiting any bad reactions. (Didn't have any reaction myself nor did anyone in the cavernous hall while we were there.)

It all made me think of the many jurisdictions which can't seem to run their elections without confusion and hours-long lines outside the polling places. This even happens in Las Vegas where the state government is committed to running accessible elections. There's a lot to be learned from this vaccination process. Most likely elections departments need more funding for more "Team" workers.

Oh yes, also, this site was run by Kaiser Permanente, although open to anyone, regardless of Kaiser membership or lack thereof. Kaiser gives all of us flu shots every fall. They know how to do mass inoculations. Glad the state has given the system this responsibility.

Must see TV?

It seems likely that the Democrats bringing the case against Donald Trump will try to make the impeachment trial just that. We live in a time when, apparently, there's always a video clip. Mostly I hate video, but I'm sure I'll be curious enough to watch some of  it.

I'm slightly skeptical about this, but the historian Heather Cox Richardson thinks it will be a powerful visual story:

Democrats are operating from a position of strength. It seems likely they will use the impeachment trial to explain to the American people what happened on January 6. Using videos and the words of those who were in the Capitol when the mob stormed in, they will paint a picture of an attempted coup, incited by a former President of the United States.
At Just Security, Justin Hendrix took a look at the challenges of of turning social media and other visual evidence into a narrative. If House managers (impeachment speak for prosecutors) do a good job, he thinks they can use the visual evidence of January 6 to set the historical frame in which these events are remembered. This could be more significant than the Senate verdict.
Certainly, the video evidence will represent a curious portrait of the various forces motivating the base of the Republican party at this moment in history. The participants in the siege on the Capitol represented “a really fascinating cross section of America, and I hope some of the coverage in the future will focus on that. I mean, there was a pride flag being flown from the inaugural scaffoldings really early on, and a Trump flag flying next to these America First and quasi-fascistic flags. I think it’s just such a fascinating insight into a pretty significant section of America and a pretty significant section of the Republican party,” said Higgins.

“Oftentimes the value of these processes is less about the final decision that’s made, because those are often steered by politics, than it is about actually correcting historical narrative, and educating a broader public about what took place relative to a particular event. The impact of something like this should go far beyond the decision. The last time we had an impeachment trial, the House came in with the best evidentiary record, a record that you cannot question in any way, shape or form and given the votes, and given the politics they could not get a conviction. But you do this for the public, you do it for the country, you do it for democracy,” said Matheson.
Apparently this was how the prosecutors at the Nuremberg trials of high ranking Nazis in 1945-6 thought about film. On the one hand, they wanted the content of the proceedings widely distributed on newsreels and therefore set up the courtroom for filming. And additionally, they created movies that showed Nazi crimes vividly and evoked visceral horror even among the defendants. These were widely distributed in theaters, setting the narrative of that atrocity-filled era.

The British Imperial War Museum (an oddly pacifistic leaning institution whose viewpoint may suggest how history can be revised after imperial decline) offers a short film about the Nuremberg video evidence.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Migrating politics

I love living in this city. In addition to tech folks come to make their fortunes (for a season), there are always new immigrants. And pretty quickly, these hard working folks open stores to serve their communities and also share their culture with their neighbors.

Like this one. Want someone who knows the home town you left in India or, if another sort of customer, sells the spices you might need for your gourmet Indian cooking class? -- here's the place for you.

And right there in the window, the politics of India come to San Francisco. I'm not going to pretend I know anything about the struggle between the government and Indian farmers. I'm instinctively prejudiced against an imposition of a modern market on farmers, as across the world, that usually has meant dispossession of small holders. But what do I know.? Here's a Vox explainer which might, or might not clarify, what's happening on the subcontinent.

This sort of thing turns up all over the city. Mainland and Taiwanese Chinese duke it out in graffiti in Chinatown. In the outer Portola neighborhood, there are opinionated signs about which Asian country owns islands in the South China Sea. People post opinions about Nagorno-Karabakh. There are Catalan independence supporters in many alleys and occasional advocates of democracy in Belarus.

It's a big world.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

It was COVID -- and all those new voters

William Saletan at Slate reports on the factors that the former president's political consultant Tony Fabrizio believes lost the election for Donald Trump.

A different candidate might have been able to take advantage of the fact that the pre-pandemic economy was pretty good for many of us. But Trump put himself on the wrong side of people's life and death concerns:

... Fabrizio found that in the 10 battleground states, “majorities of voters … prioritized stopping the spread of [the virus] over re-opening the economy.” The virus “was the top issue” in these states, the pollster observed, “and Biden carried those voters nearly 3 to 1.” In the exit polls and in McLaughlin’s survey, voters said by significant margins that Biden would handle the virus better than Trump.
Fabrizio flagged two particularly foolish mistakes in Trump’s response to the virus. One was ridiculing masks. In the 10 battleground states, voters who favored mask mandates (Biden’s position) outnumbered those who opposed mask mandates (Trump’s position) by a ratio of 3 to 1. The enormous pro-mask constituency went to Biden by about 30 points, on average, in the five states that flipped to him. 
Trump’s other dumb move was his persistent slander against Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In the five states that flipped to Biden, 72 percent of voters approved of Fauci’s job performance, and 63 percent of those voters went to Biden.

But even those Trumpian missteps wouldn't necessarily have done the job of deposing the guy. For all Trump's unpopularity --

Trump outpolled Biden among people who had voted in 2016.
What killed Trump were the new voters. Biden won them by 14 points in the five decisive states. [my emphasis]
Election volunteers should take some credit. It's a truism that campaigns can't overcome fundamentals deriving from underlying conditions. A prosperous country isn't going change leadership lightly. 

But energetic campaigns can shift who votes by a few percentage points. By text, by postcard, by phone, and at the doors, millions of citizens determined to oust Trump turned out unexpected voters -- some newly registered, some just less politically engaged. And these citizens put Biden-Harris into office and sent the Donald scurrying off to his Florida resort.

A neighborhood upgrade

Maybe it's finally underway? The former Salvation Army building on Valencia was supposed to become a psychiatric respite center for the city’s homeless and mentally ill -- last April. But like most everything else, the project was derailed by the pandemic. Now the powers-that-be say the neighborhood will be getting the new center this April. 

It's to be called Hummingbird Place ... a strangely upbeat moniker, it seems to me. 

According to the Chron

... The original Hummingbird, with about 30 beds, is on San Francisco General Hospital’s campus. It serves people who are in the midst of a psychotic episode, and often also struggling with substance use.

Some people stay for a few hours, while others stay for weeks. Clients often move to another treatment program, or back to the streets.

The new site on Valencia Street was originally slated for 30 overnight beds and 25 daytime beds. But, due to the pandemic, it will open with about 25 overnight beds so clients can socially distance. There will be no daytime beds, but some people will be able to drop in for access to services like laundry and food.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for it. We're surrounded by people who need so much help of so many different forms ...

Friday, February 05, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Janeway seems convinced that something is living in our walls and ceilings. Maybe rodents? She enjoys climbing on cupboards and sniffing intently. 

We just hope she doesn't knock over too many chachkas. 

So far, no mice have been harmed ... A few more delicate curios have been stashed away.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

It's weird to have troops in DC, but ...

All those National Guard troops currently protecting the nation's Capitol have to be billeted somewhere -- as least since lawmakers were embarrassed by seeing pictures of their defenders sleeping in parking garages. Soldiers from the Texas Army National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division were placed inside the James Madison Building of the Library of Congress. 

And they discovered something delightful: an empty library has great acoustics. Enjoy.

Here's more. 

It looks as if they are distancing too. For their sakes, I hope so.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Good trouble along with Dorothy

John Loughery and Blythe Randolph, the authors of Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century, are biographers. By that I mean they are a quite particular sort of writer "who specializes in true stories of other people's lives." They are not historians or admirers or academic critics or hagiographers.

And precisely because this book is a biography, I found it by turns delightful, fascinating, puzzling, superficial, arid, and under-contextualized. And for all that, it seems to me a good, secondary-source, introduction to Dorothy Day (1897-1980) and the Catholic Worker.

Full disclosure: I spent much of the 1970s in Catholic Worker communities, in New York in close proximity to Dorothy and later in San Francisco. I loved and still love these fools for Christ and consider the lives they choose some of the best available to any of us, though completely impossible and maybe not even desirable for most of us. I'm not a neutral commentator on this book.

Eager for independence and excitement, Dorothy Day dropped out of the University of Illinois at Urbana where she'd won a scholarship, hoping to make it as reporter. Drifting to New York City and Greenwich Village, she caught on with leftist journals that were closed down for opposing the draft in the European war of 1917-18. Later she wrote for socialist periodicals about strikes and the women's suffrage agitation.  She tossed about among the New York literary lions of the 1920s, a fringe participant in the circles of the poet Eugene O'Neill, John Dos Passos, Hart Crane, Katherine Anne Porter, Marianne Moore and Edna St. Vincent Millay. There were boyfriends, mostly cads except the future communist Mike Gold. She was notorious for being able to drink any of the men under the table. She tried to write fiction and was never very good at it. She had not yet found herself, but she was packing in life experience as she made a wandering way. I enjoyed Loughery and Randolph's picture of that distant bohemian socialist world.

And always, Dorothy felt a religious tickle -- a yearning for something more that wasn't always top of mind, but never went away. She wasn't getting what she hoped for in a relationship; she wanted children and a secure family. She was isolated. When she got pregnant, her partner didn't want to be a father. She wasn't going to have another abortion, she knew that. She wanted the child to have something she had lacked, a place within a mature faith. Her upbringing had included only a glancing acquaintance with highly conventional and unsustaining mainline Protestantism. Loughery and Randolph tackle the question, why the attraction of Roman Catholicism?
... why did Dorothy have to choose Catholicism of all religions, a faith that made unique demands and extravagant claims, a faith that in Protestant America seemed plausible only if one was born into it? The Catholic Church, seen in that light, was nothing that a rational intellectual person of the twentieth century would commit herself to ... [But milk toast Protestantisms] would not have have served the same purpose; they were profoundly different, in Dorothy's view, less concerned with a mystical essence, more attuned to the rationality of faith and a progressive here-and-now -- lesser in all ways. ... she could have echoed Maggie Tulliver, the heroine of that same wonderful George Elliot novel: "I was never satisfied with a little of anything."
And so she had her new daughter Tamar baptized, took instruction in Catholicism herself, and began praying to receive her new religion's call to a single mother whose writing career was stalled and whose sympathies were with workers and the poor struggling against destitution at the beginning of the Great Depression.

And then, along came Peter Maurin (1877-1949), a French itinerant intellectual out of a European Catholic personalist tradition. His passionately preached social theory meshed creatively with Dorothy's newfound Catholicism and continuing allegiance to the downtrodden masses. Peter's ideas and Dorothy's creativity and organizing energy issued in the Catholic Worker movement. During the 1930s, offering a Catholic alternative to godless Communism, the movement mushroomed. 

Catholic Workers fed the hungry, clothed the naked, housed the homeless, and stuck up for the strikers. The infrastructure of American Catholicism, then concentrated in Irish-, Italian-, and eastern European-American communities which still remembered their immigrant origins, welcomed this energetic grassroots activism -- not that many bishops didn't look askance at the enthusiasts in their domains.

Dorothy's absolute rejection of all wars, even the war against the Nazis, became a speed bump for the movement. Its newspaper lost its welcome on many Catholic campuses and in local parishes. Never again would the Catholic Worker seem quite such an unalloyed gift of godly energy to the Church. But Dorothy never quit and the story of the productive tension between this uncompromising force and uneasy institutional allies continued through anti-nuclear protests in the 1950s, draft card burnings during the Vietnam war, and forward to this day as Plowshares activists repeatedly invade bases and bang on nuclear missile silos.

Dorothy died in 1980, but her movement and its contradictions live on. Pope Francis included her in a catalogue of Catholics who matter to this nation when he spoke to Congress. The Church is still trying to figure out what to make of her witness and whether this unmarried mother who had a gift for selective listening to authority is a saint.

I enjoyed the Loughery and Randolph biography. Its limitations derive from the difficulty in writing both about a perfectly fascinating, very human character -- and a chaotic, inspiring, perhaps holy institution. The Catholic Worker movement -- a rich archival source -- sometimes seems to overwhelm the narrative of the individual (something Dorothy wouldn't have necessarily minded). These authors do especially well in following the difficult course of Dorothy's relationship with her daughter and family. Raising a child in the maw of any social movement is tough; one where you intentionally bring crazy home to dinner presents challenges to all.

Sadly, too much of Loughery and Randolph's story of Dorothy's life and accomplishments within the Catholic Worker movement reads as flat, almost canonical. This is the Catholic Movement as it teaches its history to itself. It is the story as told in its newspaper, primarily by Dorothy. She was an ardent advocate against injustice and for poor people and a charming story teller. She employed a writing persona both honest and also creatively shaped to spread her message through her columns. None of us do it as well she did, including these biographers.

But do I recommend this book? Absolutely. Perhaps in part because the archival remains are so voluminous, some efforts to chronicle Dorothy's life and movement have been pedantic. This is not; it flows and invites a reader in.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Can it with the click bait!

Apparently, to the mainstream media, the proper headline is obvious. Both the Guardian and the Times lead with the same shouting banner: "Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says she is a sexual assault survivor".

Though that statement is certainly one thing the Congresswoman says in an Instagram post about the appropriate terror she experienced while hiding from the thugs who had invaded the Capitol on January 6, it shouldn't be taken as the center of her message.

It's little surprise she's a survivor of sexual assault. After all, she's young, conventionally attractive, and had to work for her living. Her trauma is not that unusual, except perhaps to headline writers.

What's extraordinary about the Congresswomen is her ability to place her life, for which she feared in those scary moments, in the context of the everflowing river of human struggle for justice. Here's the Guardian's abbreviated clip of AOC's message. See for yourself what her story is about.