Thursday, September 30, 2021

Many of these deaths were preventable

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Some scary soldiers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schogol adds: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

When we do what we have to do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• • •

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

H/t friend Laura for this.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Go ahead, fire them!

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

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

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

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

Working for a living

Justin Phillips is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist whose beat, Black people around the Bay, usually takes him to such locales as Oakland or Marin City. However he ventured into deepest San Francisco recently to check out a rumor about the effort to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin:

It’s what brought me to San Francisco on Tuesday, chasing social media reports that Black men like me were being paid to gather signatures for the recall. In Republican-led recall elections, capitalism in this form isn’t something I associate with the advancement of Black and brown issues. Even when pro-recall voices tout Democratic support, the reality is that their tactics and rhetoric mimic those of far-right figures like Donald Trump.

Recent months have revealed just how easily California’s broken recall system can be manipulated by wealthy Republicans ... These recalls are part of a troubling national narrative. Republicans are attacking minority voting rights in Texas and Georgia. It may feel far from home, but the same type of white, affluent, conservative forces behind those efforts are also bankrolling attempts to oust people like Boudin and Gov. Gavin Newsom.

... Since they can exacerbate the plight of Black and Latino people, they’re also a tool of white supremacy ...

He rightly considers the Boudin recall push to be establishment sour grapes abetted by racial fearmongering. We're already into the second recall attempt against a D.A. who has been in office less than two years, most of that hampered by the pandemic, closed courts, and the usual recalcitrant, racist police force.

Through it all, Boudin has been doing the job he was elected to do:

Boudin has promoted decarceration efforts like limiting the “three strikes” law for repeat offenders. He champions restorative justice initiatives that focus on rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration. Black Bay Area leaders have also supported Boudin’s stances.

Phillips didn't find the rumored young Black male signature gatherers.  As it happened, I did see some of these guys the other day. Not working I should say, but taking a smoke break and comparing notes while sticking out as non-natives in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

This is what unsorted, unverified petitions look like.
As it happens, I know something about California's paid signature gathering -- I've worked in campaigns that used these vendors to get measures qualified for the ballot. It's a highly developed industry. If you are willing to pay enough, you can get most anything before the voters.

The most successful petition-hawkers are usually aggressive and smooth talking young white men -- the same sorts of guys who scratch out a living playing music or being mimes on the streets. They are paid by the signature, so they energetically engage. They seldom know or care what the petitions they are carrying would do. Most of those who sign are also white -- stands to reason since California voters remain by plurality white.

One of these out-of-place signature gatherers made a weak effort to attract my signature. "Sign to legalize magic mushrooms?"

Smart move that. When I declined, he offered "I got another one." It was the Boudin recall petition. As I expected, he couldn't even pronounce Boudin's name. 

Signature gathering is just a job. I wasn't going to argue, politely declining.

This team was not going to get much done. They'll probably get fired; there are always more folks needing a job ...

Justin Phillips is right. The multiple Boudin recalls are yet more evidence that the recalls aren't empowering voters. Money wants to get its way and uses what was meant as a voter empowerment mechanism to get there.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

There are leaders who can inspire. We just have to look around.

Here in the USofA, we probably feel that inspirational political figures are in short supply. Our system is creaky; even ethically right-thinking pols are forced to trim their visions in the hope of getting anything accomplished. So let's look around a bit.

The United Nations General Assembly meeting -- infelicitously pronounced "UNGA" -- is something we are accustomed to ignore. At the opening of each session, every national political leader who wishes to is allowed to make a speech, thereby reaffirming the body as representative of all the countries of the world. That's 193 states at present, a lot of speeches. Joe Biden gave one -- I doubt you noticed.

But thanks to Adam Tooze, I became aware that the wonderfully named Prime Minister of the island nation of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, schooled the assembled dignitaries in what the world really needs -- at least if anyone was listening. 

Here she is -- a little longer than what I usually post, but totally worth hearing.

A few points -- she knows that if the United Nations is to be worth attending, it has to be changed from its post World War II shape to something new:

• How many times will we have a situation where we say the same thing over and over and over, only to have it come to naught? 
• How many more deaths must it take before 1.7 billion vaccines in the possession of the advanced countries of the world will be shared with those who have simply no access to vaccines?

• How much more global temperature rise must there be before we end the burning of fossil fuels? ... We are waiting for global, moral, strategic leadership ...

• How many more crises and natural disasters before we see that all conventions of aid mean that assistance does not reach those who need it most and those who are most vulnerable? It is not because we do not have enough. It is because we do not have the will to distribute that which we have. And it is also because, regrettably, the faceless few do not fear the consequences sufficiently.

• How many times must great needs be met simply by nice words and not have before us the goodwill that is necessary to prevent militarism and nationalism? ... this age simply resembles that of a century ago. ... Our world knows not what it is gambling with. ... this fire will burn us all down. ... This is not science fiction.

• In the words of Robert Nesta Marley, who will get up and stand up for the rights of our people? Who will stand up in the name of all who have died in this awful pandemic? ... Who will stand up not with a little token but with real progress?

• If we can find the will to send people to the moon -- and to solve male baldness, as I've said over and over -- we can solve simple problems like letting our people eat ...

• Why don't we count who stands up in here ... [our people want to know] what is the relevance of an international community that doesn't listen to each other? ... Barbados calls and the people of the world ask, what direction do we want our world to go in? And not leave it to the faceless few who have worked so hard to prevent the prosperity from being shared.

• We need a new UNGA for the peoples of the world ... we have the population and the member states to send the signal of the direction we want the world to go in ... Let us do it in the calm assurance that those who live in great causes never ultimately fail, but we must summon the courage to do it. ... We cannot solve every problem in the world but must solve those in our purview, immediately.

 That's a woman to be reckoned with.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

California housing supply morass: a local view

Amid the cacophony created by California's recall election and the threat from the Delta bug, this year's legislative session has spit out, and the governor signed, bills meant to increase creation of new housing. Housing policy is almost impenetrably complicated and the actual impact of various tweaks may or may not be as anticipated or accomplish intended goals. But nobody can argue we don't have a problem and that government ought not be trying to do something.

Here's columnist George Skelton explaining the state's housing problem in the Los Angeles Times

We need to cozy up in the larger cities near jobs and public transportation. That means filling in vacant lots with housing, making more efficient use of residential land and building higher rather than sideways into far-off suburbia, where long commutes play havoc with family life and emit greenhouse gases that accelerate climate change. 
But mainly, we’ve got to do something about the economics of supply and demand that are turning the California dream into a nightmare for millions. There’s a dearth of supply and unquenchable demand. We need to add 1.8 million to 2.5 million new homes by 2025, and we’re crawling along at maybe 100,000 per year. 
The median price of a single-family California home in August was about $828,000, compared with the national median of roughly $360,000 in July. In Los Angeles, it was $825,000 in July — in the San Francisco Bay Area, $1.3 million.

... “Local government has less control under these bills,” says Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a former leader of the state Senate. As a legislator, Steinberg pushed through some of the earliest legislation that attempted to incentivize more urban housing near public transportation.

“I’ve been on both sides. My view has not changed. Local control is an important value, but it’s not absolute. It’s not more important than the desperate need in this state to produce more housing.”

Cautiously, I'm with Skelton and Steinberg. My generation must not foreclose the possibility of younger people thriving in the place we love. We have to find a way to get more housing built, particularly at the affordable end of the spectrum. If down zoning helps, so be it.

That said, I have lived in a neighborhood, San Francisco's Mission, which has experienced itself as undergoing gentrification for as long as I've been here -- nearly 50 years! When I came, I was part of that, intruding on a place that had been working class Irish-American on its way to becoming working class Latinx. The "white hippies" landed here because it was cheap -- and we felt we belonged because we loved the local cultural stew alongside our neighbors. And some of us are still here.

But when a certain kind of housing policy advocate screams for more urban density, they seem routinely oblivious to the fact that somehow the new housing almost always gets built to the detriment of existing housing, of existing communities, usually poor and of color. The vision of more density everywhere is nice -- but controversial development will always be crammed into communities which have the least power to exert local control. Anyone who doubts that should look at the Fillmore-Western Addition San Francisco neighborhoods where a thriving urban Black community was bulldozed to be replaced by antiseptic highrises and some public housing. Of course we distrust.

Jerusalem Demas at Vox is a policy journalist who aligns with advocates for greater density. But she takes seriously what gentrification does to neighborhoods. 

None of this is to undermine the very real cultural conflict that gentrification brings. Even if you’re able to stay in your neighborhood and your home, watching store after store pop up that doesn’t serve your community or isn’t available to you at your income level can be deeply alienating. It’s no wonder that people who have faced centuries of disinvestment grow angry as public and private money flows into their neighborhoods only after high-income, college-educated people choose to move there. Even if those people are not wholly responsible for the inequality, the blatant injustice is hard to ignore. 
Taken all together, it becomes clear why we focus on gentrification while the unseen culprits (segregated enclaves) are able to avoid controversy: Gentrification is the most visual manifestation of inequality in urban life. 
Or, it's the racism and economic exploitation, stupid!

• • •

Meanwhile, let's celebrate when new, well-designed, dense housing is available to some who need it. Walking during the pandemic, I watched with curiosity as the new structure in the former light-industrial neighborhood on Folsom Street seemed to fly up. Casa Adelante opened to residents in July. Erected after a ten year development and funding process, the new Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) building provides 127 "permanently affordable" units for low income residents. 

The obstacle strewn process that hamstrings creating buildings like this one is what needs to be blown up -- along with some local restrictive density limits that have advantaged single family homeowners.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Janeway's a charmer. A good friend was so taken with her, she got her a cat house. The cat disdained the lovely gray hideaway for months. But then one day, she grasped what it was for: a cozy perch.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Illinois' brilliant new climate, jobs, and justice bill

On a day when it's all too easy to feel little but frustration with the political system (that would be Congress) and the administration (that would be about atrocious treatment of desperate Haitians), it seems worthwhile to share some good climate news. 

This comes via David Roberts at Volts who knows as much about sustainability policy making as anyone. Something very good has passed in Illinois. And we have to recognize the prerequisite: 

As I have emphasized numerous times now, Democratic control is a necessary (if not sufficient) condition for ambitious state energy policy. ...

Nice to think of a midwestern state leaping ahead of California -- let's compete!

Another timely jab

It's flu shot time. The nice nursing student who did the job wasn't into the aesthetics of bandaids.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

A Republic, if we can keep it

There were many and different responses to the revelatory catastrophe that was the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Some of the horrified marched, some cried, some organized, some thought of leaving the country. Thomas E. Ricks, recently retired from an honorable career as a mainstream journalist chronicling the U.S. military and its wars, thought he should investigate just what was in the minds of the the men of the founding generation.

Before that Tuesday night in November 2016, I had thought I understood my country. 

The result is First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country.

The book is a highly readable, slightly quirky, appreciation of the first four presidents. We find out what kind of schooling they received -- Washington had little formal instruction; while Adams was a Harvard man befitting his origins in New England; Jefferson a serious reader of philosophy at William and Mary College in Virginia; and Madison, a bit of an adventurer, who traveled out of Virginia to study politics in New Jersey at what became Princeton University.

And we learn what they cared about: in Washington's case, above all his reputation for "virtue," the formal character traits his generation admired in leaders of the pre-imperial ancient Roman Republic. Adams yearned to be thought a great man and despite many petty faults in fact was the first driver of the break with the English monarchy. Jefferson failed to focus his talents on the construction of government -- but had moments of genius such as accomplishing the tripling of the country's territory through the Louisiana Purchase which may not have been within his Constitutional mandate. Madison was a bridge figure -- less anchored in ancient Roman Republicanism, more open to a raucous, striving citizenry pushing west over the Appalachian Mountains into the rich center of the continent.

Ricks' descriptions are sharp and charming:
They grew into distinctly dissimilar men: Washington a stiff-necked soldier; Adams a brilliant, honest, self-absorbed crank; Jefferson a dreamer of liberty who living in hypocritical luxury off the sweat of captive humans; Madison already with one foot in the next generation, perhaps more an American than a Virginian and an unapologetic politician.
Though all these founders spoke against slavery, only Washington took any practical move against it, freeing as many of the enslaved people on his plantation as he could legally in his will. Adams never owned enslaved people. Jefferson and Madison did nothing to end the hegemony of the nation's original sin; forty years before the Civil War, they were aware that any real resolution might break the nation.

One of Ricks' previous books (another good read if interested) was The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today. In First Principles, the part that most enlarged my understanding of his subjects was a discussion of Washington's strategy and tactics for winning an improbable victory over the strongest imperial power of the day. Suffice to say, bold, romantic frontal charges at the British forces might have seemed to embody manly virtue, but attrition and care not to waste men or supplies won the war. It's an interesting discussion. There's no doubt that Ricks considers Washington an admirable general.

• • •

New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie is also obsessed with understanding these men of the Early Republic. He makes points about our understanding of the founders that go well with Ricks' book.

...we lack of a sense of how foreign their world was as compared to ours. ...

... The United States of 1790 — the year of the first census — was a predominantly rural country with an extensive system of slave labor. Its largest city, New York, was home to 33,131 people. To a visitor from Paris (population: 524,186), the busiest metropolis of the young Republic would have looked like a provincial capital. ...

... The politics were vastly different too. It’s not just that there weren’t parties, but that there was no concept of the loyal opposition. ... For the most part, in the present, Americans of different perspectives and beliefs see each other as legitimate political actors. Or at least, they know they are supposed to view each other that way. But this is not a natural idea. It had to be developed. And in the meantime, political conflict between Americans could take on existential stakes.

... In fact, if there is anything we should take from the founders of American history, it’s that their world was not set in stone, and neither is ours.

The quotation used here for the headline, may or may not echo something Benjamin Franklin said exiting the Constitutional Convention.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Fury is building

 @LungDocDoug has had it.
A thread of Anger. Any other ICU professionals tired of being asked about resilience? It feels analogous to asking how well the armor is doing at stopping bullets, instead of asking how can we help avoid the bullets in the first place

Last March I walked into an ICU that I (and everybody else) knew was about to be overrun by COVID. It's said that bravery is not the absence of fear, but rather duty in the face of fear. We felt fear, but also an unmistakable sense of purpose, duty, and solidarity.

Since then I have walked into 3 MORE similar surges of COVID, now working through the fourth. The first few we saw that sense of purpose, mutual support, and each other AND to our patients. That feeling is probably still there but its buried...

Purpose has given way to seething anger, boiling under the surface but undoubtedly there, even if we don't say it out loud. It's anger because this did not have to happen. Contrary to what has been widely assumed, NOT all the sick are unvaccinated. Clearly it's the majority...but in my ICU there are also those who are vaccinated, but also (for one reason or another) immuno-suppressed, either for congenital reasons or because of organ transplants.

Imagine coming close to death, being rescued because someone dies and donates their organs, then dying of COVID in spite of being vaccinated because someone with a "My body, My choice" sign (if there was ever a more inappropriate use of an appropriate phrase, I haven't seen it) decided to breath near you.

THIS is what your neighborhood ICU docs/RNs/RTs are seeing. We're seeing unnecessary suffering, often inflicted by the worst form self-centered ignorance. Professionalism means you do your best, even when not at your best, but devotion to duty erodes like steel exposed to water. Slowly but progressively, and it will catch up to us. END.  

Professionalism has been very important to holding this country together over the last five years. The professional procedural pride of many people in the legal arena -- of some bureaucrats -- of election administers -- has stood between us and chaos. 

Now the docs/the nurses/the techs are on the line, doing their jobs amidst criminal selfishness.

I have no qualms whatever about wanting policies to coerce people to get vaccinated for the good of the community -- and I'm probably one of the more considerate among us.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Flushing their future down the drain

If these feelings persist -- and there's no reason to think they won't -- Texas and other abortion-outlawing states are in for a world of hurt. 

Reports Judd Legum at Popular Information

Texas' abortion ban could make it significantly more difficult for Apple and other major employers in Texas to attract top talent. A recent survey of 1,689 college-educated adults who do not live in Texas found that the state's new abortion ban would discourage them from taking a job in Texas. 

A similar percentage (63%) said they "would not apply for a job in a state that passed a ban similar to [Texas'] SB 8." Half of respondents (49%) said "they would think about moving out of state if a law like SB 8 passed in their state."

Not every one of these respondents is going to stick to this intention if the right job comes along. But abhorrence of Texas' backwardness will exert a real drag on the nation's second most populous state. The future is not in fossil fuels and oil -- in fact, this sector is not dominant in Texas even today. The future is in innovations from highly educated people. Sunbelt anti-abortion states are making themselves unattractive with their restrictions. Good news for colder places trying to compete like Boston and Seattle.

Of course the actual victims of anti-abortion laws will be women with least privilege, with the least ability to evade the restrictions. But Texas is winning these folks some very self-interested allies.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Activism's in-between

So you feel something is very, very wrong in this country and society -- the climate turning more hostile; anti-vaxxers doing their best to prolong the pandemic; Republicans trying to trash democracy ... and whatever more immediate malaise has grabbed your heart.

Working to replace the Donald with Joe Biden gave activism some direction for awhile; working for Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Warnock in Georgia, even more. And while the pandemic refuses to go away, at least Gov. Gavin prevailed.

But now what -- how to engage in a world that needs everything, but no obvious, clear cut path seems on offer for this moment. You are tired. And worried.

You are not alone.

At Daily Kos, someone who uses the handle of "truemajority" offers some thoughtful suggestions for activists and all of us that seem worth passing on in this anxious in-between moment.
A lot of concern and a lot of desire to be of help is expressed by people who are standing on the sidelines because they aren’t sure what to do, or where to direct their energy. What is the best first step? Fortunately there is an area of activism anyone can do, that is always helpful and always important. You can start doing it today.

Find someone who needs a little support and encouragement, and give it to them. 
Did a name pop into your mind just now, reading that sentence? There’s always someone close at hand who fits the bill. Look around and it won’t take long to see a person plugging away behind the scenes who is not expecting any recognition, but who would receive it as gratefully as a tree in a drought welcomes a surprise summer shower. ... 
Appreciation makes invisible work visible.
Read about the great change agents of the past, some of whom worked for years or decades without seeing many results, and without anybody outside their immediate circle knowing who they were. Somehow they persevered, usually with far fewer resources than we have today, and managed to lay a solid foundation for progressive advances we currently enjoy. ... 
• It is better to do something than nothing.
While you’re waiting to launch your next big thing, or even flailing about trying to determine what your very next small step might be, consider starting a side project of intentional support to activists around you. You could even direct this powerful energy to yourself, by creating inspirational moments to start your own day. ...

 As always, we need to empower imagination and choose hope.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Saturday scenes: Black Lives Matter on Martha's Vineyard

Every Sunday at 10:30am, a small group gathers at Beetlebung Corners to kneel for 9 minutes and 20 seconds, remembering George Floyd and so many other victims of wanton police violence. 

This past week, about 25 folks listened to an account of the killing of Terrence Coleman by Boston police officers Garrett Boyle and Kevin Finn on October 30, 2016; the cops were intervening in his mother's effort to get an ambulance for the unarmed man.

After the kneeling, the group listened to reports of activism to reduce the danger of police violence during mental health calls on the island.

Perseverance furthers.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Somebody wants San Franciscans to be very afraid ...

And some of us are very afraid, here in San Francisco.

I was surprised to encounter a city block in tony St. Francis Woods where these signs appeared on a majority of lawns. (Yes, they have lawns out there.) Some folks are very worried about porch larceny and I'm not going to call them wrong.  Presumably porch thefts are their lived experience.

But some local media are touting a mess of BS about rising crime in the city, apparently in service of attacking our innovative elected District Attorney Chesa Boudin. The guy's mere existence is a boil on the local establishment's body politic -- what's the accomplished professional son of convicted Brinks robbers doing in a law enforcement role? They wanted somebody else, but the voters in their wisdom elected the former public defender. So Boudin has been threatened with two recall petitions -- one of which has already collapsed.

Atlantic reporter Emma Green interviewed our progressive D.A. at length. Here's some of what he had to say:
Boudin: My job is to make sure that San Francisco is safe and that people feel safe. Those aren’t always synonymous. There’s often a disconnect between what we see in terms of data and how people feel. That’s driven by individual experience, social media, and local news coverage as much as it’s driven by any policy that any district attorney could implement. 
I want to be clear about what the data does show. It shows that in my first year in office, overall crime fell by about 20 percent. Rapes were down by about 50 percent. Robberies were down by about 20 percent. Assaults down by about 15 percent. Auto burglaries down by about 40 percent. So, yes, you’re absolutely right. There are some categories of crime, like residential burglaries or like gun violence, that have gone up—categories that appropriately make people feel scared. Residential burglaries are scary. Gun violence is terrifying. [Editor’s note: I checked these statistics, and they’re accurate. ...] 
... It’s frustrating that the police officers’ association in San Francisco has consistently been a source of toxic misinformation and lies in the public discourse. We’ve seen the police union not just spend millions attacking me and other like-minded reformers—they also went after my predecessors. These tactics have nothing to do with me or my policies and everything to do with a retrograde, reactionary, racist police-union leadership determined to exploit tragedies, undermine criminal-justice reform, and ensure impunity for even those police officers who shoot and kill unarmed Black men.
People who don't live in the city might be confused by some aspects of the fight over Boudin and his policies.
• Around here, everyone with any pretensions to political relevance is a Democrat. So some of the recall boosters loudly proclaim they are Democrats -- and they are. Policy differences are fought out within the Democratic Party, not against Republicans. We have "moderate" Dems who look and act like conservatives in the view of the (small) majority of local liberal/lefty Dems. And there's no more fierce rivalry than between folks claiming the same honorable label. (We do have GOPers, a few. They are big money donors with no popular following but lots of political consultants on the gravy train.) 
• The local police union is genuinely a "retrograde, reactionary, racist" power center. That may not represent all the cops, though it certainly is in line with the inclinations of many police officers. And the union leadership does a lot to keep any dissenters within the ranks from speaking out. Too many of these cops live somewhere else and venture into the city as if braving a war zone populated by savages. Working to wrest better behavior from the department is a long term, frustrating struggle which has exhausted many politicians and some police chiefs.

• • •

When you have been away even for a few days, you return to a pile of snail mail. On the way to the recycling this week, I pulled out this. Somebody wants me, a home-owning regular voter, to be very afraid. The named source is not a group, but an unfamiliar website, whose address I've cut off here. Some consultants are trying to scare me stupid. Is this from the cop union? Who knows? It seems pretty dodgy.

Bad police officers have nothing left but dirty politics.

Friday cat blogging

All cats seem to instinctively understand that the presence of suitcases suggests a coming disruption in their smooth round of eating, playing, and sleeping. When we flew east, Janeway thought perhaps she could stowaway.
"Take me along," she implored. No dice -- but we were glad to find a friendly housesitter to provide for her comforts while we were AWOL.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Crawling out of the bog ...

The National Center for Science Education reports that a majority of us seem to have firmly recognized that evolution is a fact.

“From 1985 to 2010, there was a statistical dead heat between acceptance and rejection of evolution,” commented lead researcher Jon D. Miller of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. “But acceptance then surged, becoming the majority position in 2016.”

2016 -- the year the know-nothings seized a national political party and imposed their bottom-feeding swamp critter. And the year many of us had to let go a deadly complacency.  

It ain't over. The struggle continues. There are many more perils ahead. But I like the trend.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Running against the party of COVID-19 is a winning strategy

That's nice to know -- and a good portent. Newsom survived and a path to future Democratic victories has been clarified. Republicans have hitched themselves to a minority of vaccine resisters who are spreading death where they can get away with their folly. Heck of a dumb pitch, one would think. Thanks Donald for unleashing the crazy -- and now it even bites the former guy when he suggests getting shots.

We seldom get to see the guv looking this close to authentically happy.
I'll give the day's punditry to Perry Bacon Jr., one of my favorite commentators liberated by the Washington Post from the constrained platform at 538.

Mask-wearing and vaccinations ... are easy to understand. And Newsom’s covid policies demonstrated, in a clearer way than tax credits would, the governor’s broader values, which I think is what actually drives people’s votes. Newsom was essentially arguing that he is a rational, common-sense person who cares about saving people’s lives during a deadly pandemic, while Elder is an out-of-control ideologue.

Newsom’s values are of course much more popular than Elder’s in a blue state such as California. But nationally the 2018 and 2020 elections also featured Democrats running against Trumpism and portraying themselves as the party with normal values — and they won control of the House, Senate and the presidency. Newsom’s victory suggests that running as the anti-Trumpism party still has real political value, even with Trump no longer in the White House.

As my more skeptical friends know, I never thought Newsom that endangered. It's really hard to beat something with nothing. I wondered, in fact, whether Dems promoted some bad summer polls to goose their base. Maybe. Whatever -- it worked.

And the California GOPers have revealed they have no one of substance to run against Newsom in the real re-election campaign in 2022. Their recall stunt just killed that opportunity as well.

On to Virginia, where slightly used Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe (he's seeking to return after being term-limited) aims to ride the same anti-pandemic strategy to victory over a Trumpy GOPer in November. It ought to be possible to run against a killer disease. The Newsom romp says it's the way to go.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Let's wave goodbye to some history ...

On Saturday, September 11, 2021, I could almost glimpse the phantom wraiths of 9/11 past (the American trauma, not the Chilean coup against democracy) gliding away, lost in the mists of history. After two decades -- dumb wars, hubris, ignorant Islamophobia. defensive xenophobia, disdain for civilized values and the constraining rule of law, and too much death -- perhaps we're moving on. 

The median age in this country was 38 last year. For an awful lot of us, 9/11 is either a childhood memory or no memory at all. I was 14 years old when it became 20 years out from the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Though that surprise assault reshaped my parents' lives and the country around them, I don't remember the commemoration. That trauma was their ancient history and I had my own battles to fight -- for civil rights for all of us and against another stupid war. 

All pundits are duly producing their retrospectives. I only want to recommend two:

• At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick shared a weary podcast interview with Baher Azmy from the Center for Constitutional  Rights, The Legal Repercussions of the War on Terror.

•  Garrett M. Graff spells out what many of us never doubted: After 9/11, the U.S. Got Almost Everything Wrong.

On to the next adventures in the never-finished cause of justice, humanity, and decency ...

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

You know what we have to do

Let's save Newsom from the cranks and crazy GOPers -- and then keep after him to do the right thing. This poster was wheat-pasted all over Mission Street. Don't know if I consider it an effective electoral intervention, but at least it's not boring.

• • •

I'll be mostly offline for the next 5 days, attending a postponed memorial service celebrating my mother-in-law Ellinor. I may post, or I may not. Back to the blog middle of next week.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

So much comes back to John Maynard Keynes

You know how they say everyone finds God in a foxhole? Well, by the same token, during a serious economic crisis, everyone finds Keynes. New Republic editor Michael Tomasky  
The world discovered that John Maynard Keynes was right when he declared during World War II that “anything we can actually do, we can afford.” Economic historian Adam Tooze
Who was this guy, this John Maynard Keynes, and why is he repeatedly invoked? Zachary D. Carter, a senior reporter at HuffPost, has tackled the question in The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes, a sprawling biography and much more.

Carter's subject worked at the highest levels of British government on the problems (there were plenty!) of finance during both The Great War (1914-1918) and the Second World War (1939-1945). In between, he speculated successfully in stocks, criticized his country's political leaders, and articulated a vision of economics while teaching a coterie of brilliant students at Cambridge. After World War II, he helped create both the British welfare state launched by the Labour government of 1945-1951 and, reluctantly, the Bretton Woods international economic order which cemented the United States as the world's dominant power.

But Carter wants us to understand that my skeletal sketch here is inevitably inadequate.
Today Keynes is remembered as an economist because it was through the field of economics that his ideas exercised their greatest influence. College students are taught that he urged governments to accept budget deficits in a recession and spend money when the private sector cannot. But his economic agenda was aways deployed in service of a broader, more ambitious social project. Keynes was a philosopher of war and peace, the last of the Enlightenment intellectuals who pursued political theory, economics, and ethics as a unified design. He was a man whose chief project was not taxation or government spending but the survival of what he called "civilization" ... 
Keynes was a tangle of paradoxes: a bureaucrat who married a dancer; a gay man whose greatest love was a woman; a loyal servant of the British Empire who railed against imperialism; a pacifist who helped finance two world wars; an internationalist who assembled the intellectual architecture of the modern nation state; an economist who challenged the foundations of economics.
It's interesting to understand that this polymath mostly loathed the United States whose pragmatic, coalitional, bourgeois politics he understood poorly. Yet his influence has perhaps been greatest here and only through U.S. global predominance worked its back to countries he considered far more civilized.
... the history of Keynesianism is an intellectual history of American power, both its promise and its abuse ...
Keynes had a way of asserting home truths that took the economic profession aback. For example, in his most technical work, the General Theory he allows:
Enterprise only pretends itself to be mainly actuated by the statements in its own prospectus. ... Only a little more than an expedition to the South Pole, is it based on an exact calculation of benefits to come. Thus if the animal spirits are dimmed and the spontaneous optimism falters, leaving us to depend on nothing but a mathematical expectation, enterprise will fade and die; -- though fears of loss may have a basis no more reasonable than hope of profit had before.
No, he was not one for believing in the rationality of markets.

Carter highlights the central Keynesian insight from the Depression which has come down to us:
Excessive thrift -- otherwise described as underconsumption -- could cause economic trouble. ... a technical observation that carried radical political implications.
To get people back to work, they had to be able to buy things and thus to incentivize businesses to make salable goods would lead to creating jobs. In a world where such a thought was a novelty, this was genius. In our pandemic world, we've seen the cycle play out as financial stimulus that permits recovery from an induced artificial recession.

Keynes is both applauded and mocked for observing in 1930 that the productive power of modern capitalism should lead to a society in which people only needed to work for 15 hours a week for wages. They would be free to use the rest of their lives for self-education and creativity. Of course, he was wrong; late capitalism siphons more and more of working people's product to the owners, never sharing the goodies (the profits) with most workers. He more or less knew what would get in the way of his vision; we have been convinced we have pseudo-needs that keep us on the treadmill.
Keynes distinguished between human needs essential to survival and semi-needs whose 'satisfaction lifts us above, makes us feel superior to, our fellows. Needs of the second class, those which satisfy the desire for superiority, may indeed be insatiable.'
A lifetime lived within late capitalism makes that statement hard to assess. Do we really need all we're accustomed to want? Hmm...

Carter sadly concludes:
Keynesian economics were formulated as a defense against fascism, so it was appropriate that Keynes [and his intellectual allies] would join the war effort against Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. But Keynesianism was also developed to prevent war, and it remains one of the great tragic ironies of intellectual history that the very catastrophe Keynes had attempted to avert for nearly two decades would be the event that finally demonstrated the viability of his economic ideas on the world stage.
Keynes makes a fascinating subject for biography. But chewing over the life of this strange and wonderful man is not all Carter has done in this volume. As I often do, I read this book by ear. So when Carter reported on Keynes' death in 1946, I was shocked to realize I still had six more hours of listening ahead. 

Carter follows the bumpy trajectory of Keynes' reputation and intellectual influence among economists and policy makers in the Western world up to the present. This was interesting -- I never previously had known why the right are such enthusiasts for Keynes' Austrian critic Friedrich Hayek nor all the ins-and-outs of Democratic economic eminence John Kenneth Galbraith's drive for political power. All fascinating, some relevant to today -- and more than I want to attempt to get in to here.

The Price of Peace demands a major investment of attention and cogitation. Highly recommended.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Labor Day 2021

This Labor Day, there are new campaign artifacts in our front hall. Not T-shirts or pins with slogans this time. Instead masks ... how 2021!

Erudite Partner is working this fall as a member-organizer for her union, the Part Time Faculty Association at the University of San Francisco, the city's prized local Jesuit school. Organizers talk with people -- hence the masks from her parent union.

The 600 part-time instructors are over half the teaching staff, but receive neither the salaries, the benefits, nor the respect equivalent to full-time professors.

Meanwhile, the University is back to full enrollment levels despite the pandemic. But charging students ever escalating tuition doesn't cover the costs of a mushrooming administration and fancy facilities. 

So the administration wants to trim back existing pay and retirement benefits for their lowest paid teachers!

The Union says no -- and that the school should live up to its ethical claims.

Gonna be a fight, as it always is when grasping bosses try to squeeze their workers. 

Happy Labor Day!

Sunday, September 05, 2021

A 9/11 wars after-action assessment and more

In the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada, the highly regarded non-fiction book reviewer, has written an insightful survey of some of the literature of the War on Terror: 9/11 was a test. The books of the last two decades show how America failed.

Some telling excerpts; I highly recommend the whole:

Rather than exemplify the nation’s highest values, the official response to 9/11 unleashed some of its worst qualities: deception, brutality, arrogance, ignorance, delusion, overreach and carelessness. ... 
...  In these works, indifference to the growing terrorist threat gives way to bloodlust and vengeance after the attacks. Official dissembling justifies wars, then prolongs them. In the name of counterterrorism, security is politicized, savagery legalized and patriotism weaponized. It was an emergency, yes, that’s understood. But that state of exception became our new American exceptionalism. 
... The message was unmistakable: The law is an obstacle to effective counterterrorism. Worrying about procedural niceties is passe in a 9/11 world, an annoying impediment to the essential work of ass-kicking.
Lozada has chosen a valuable catalogue of horrors to highlight -- but I can't help mourning what's missing from it. In addition to these book-length journalistic critiques -- "just the facts" deeply reported if morally informed -- the "War on Terror" has left us with a vast literature in a number of genres.
• There was the deeply disillusioned, essentially conservative, military take from retired colonel Andrew Bacevich in America's War for the Greater Middle East
• The grunts on the ground have tried to explain what the war meant in their lives. In What It's Like to Go to War,  Karl Marlantes compares his war -- Vietnam -- with the experiences of another generation of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. 
• Joshua E.S. Phillips tells the story of U.S. soldiers and torture in a painful, caring little volume, None of Us Were Like This Before. This one deserved more visibility than it seemed to get. 
• National Book Award judges did take notice of a truly successful fictional portrait an enlisted man's mindset: Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk. Highly recommended, especially for football fans. 
Union Square, New York City, September 22, 2001.
I don't think we have yet a broad, thoughtful, book-length account of the citizen peace movement in this country against the War on Terror and its permutations. There were always nay-sayers from the first moments after 9/11, while the Towers site still smoldered. Those masks date from 2001.

In early 2008, I assembled a five part series on the peace movement for a conference of Historians Against the War. Looking these posts over more than 10 years later, they still provide a decent survey in what turned out to be still early days.
Part One: Trying to find the ground under our feet: 2001-2002  
Part Two: Afghanistan and the Iraq invasion; the antiwar movement builds some infrastructure and tries some initiatives: 2002-2003  
Part Three: Liberal elites get the bad news: U.S. has "lost" Iraq war; Presidential election subsumes activism: 2004-2005  
Part Four: Peace movement finds causes to support; Insurgent new Democrats and a counterculture emerge: 2005-2008  
Part Five: Lessons: 2001-2008
The grouplet that called itself Historians against the War now calls itself Historians for Peace and Democracy. This seems on point twenty years after 9/11.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Simple courtesies

Most of us are not likely to encounter refugees from the shitshow the U.S. has stirred and left behind in Afghanistan. (San Francisco Bay Area residents may be slightly more likely than most to have the opportunity as there is a good-sized Afghan community in the South Bay.)

Sociologist Dr. Iman Ahmad-Sediqe has passed along a useful Twitter list of "micro aggressions" to avoid if you did meet newly arrived Afghans. It struck me that many of these suggestions would be appropriate to meeting anyone newly plopped in these disunited states regardless of their country of origin. The following are lightly edited for length. 

A list of micro aggressions to avoid with newly arrived Afghans: 
This is a delicate period of transition. As an Afghan American, & an academic who has studied the community, I urge you to avoid certain behaviors. These ... can be hurtful for our new neighbors.
1. Don't call them Afghanis. Afghani is the word for the currency in Afghanistan and is utilized as a slur by other communities against Afghans. The appropriate word for someone from Afghanistan is Afghan.

2. Don't ask an Afghan what their tribal background is. This is not showing interest in who they are, but rather displaying your interest in labeling them into a box.

3. Don't assume because they are refugees, that they are uneducated. Many are professionals whose degrees & accomplishments aren’t accepted in the American system, so they have to take up working class jobs in order to care for their families.

4. Just because they may speak with an accent, doesn’t mean they think with one— Some assume an accent means someone is intellectually inferior. On the contrary, these individuals are bilingual & can balance multiple languages. They simply communicate in a way you’re not used to.

5. Don’t ask them what their political views are on America. You don’t ask a neighbor who they’re voting for, it’s same courtesy. They’ve been through a more complex experience than you may be aware of and are focused on feeling a semblance of safety, not on trivial political ?s

6. Don’t ask if they’re Shia or Sunni. Assuming that the media portrayal of sectarian friction applies to them is false. Their personal experiences are much richer than that. Give them space to practice their religion however they feel comfortable. They just want to feel welcome

7. Don’t bring nationalism and racism into a discussion with them. They’re mourning the loss of their homes and social networks. They don’t want to hear about your political opinions. They’re not responsible for the refugee crisis.

8. Don’t assume one individual is representative of every Afghan & every Afghan’s experience. This is an unfair burden to carry, & would be akin to a foreigner meeting one American & assuming he represents the entire country.

9. Don’t expect them to immediately feel comfortable with you or trust you. The emotional toll they are experiencing is intense. Building relationships for them will take time....

12. Do NOT expect a personal thanks from them. Their homes were destroyed, their lives at risk, and their families torn apart. Providing humanitarian aid should not be done expecting a thanks. They don’t owe you anything.

13. Do NOT preach your religious perspectives to them (regardless of what religion you’re from). This is awkward & uncomfortable, even if you are from the same religion. If it’s a social taboo to discuss religion with guests, the same applies here…

13. (Continued)…They are preoccupied with feelings of loss, PTSD, & worries of resettlement. Give them the grace of space to not get into heavy topics or feel imposed upon.

15. Don’t feel a need to give them a personal crash course on America. Let them ask you questions. If there’s something you notice that would be helpful for them to know, approach someone who they are comfortable with to discuss it with them one on one in private…

15. (Continued)… Do not humiliate an adult by correcting their behaviors publicly. There are cultural norms they’re learning.
What other tips might readers have to offer for welcoming newcomers ... any newcomers?

Afghan refugees do need community support. Jewish Community and Family Services - East Bay has been on the job resettling displaced Afghans for years and offers a good window on their needs.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Friday cat blogging

I had so been looking forward to posting Janeway pictures today and now I'm devastated. I woke up this morning, saw no cat, and gradually realized she'd somehow escaped during comings and goings last night. We'll do all the usual things -- call, put out food, check with the chip people -- but for now, there is no cat. She may find her way home -- or not.

But I decided I'd share this soul-filled image of the young hunter anyway.

She was enjoying jumping on that plastic bag and sliding down the floor. The bag hides her body in the picture.

UPDATE: 7:54 pm -- we just extracted Janeway from under a building in the next door backyard. She's dirty, but otherwise no more demonically possessed than ever.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Women at the wars

It's hard to imagine a more appropriate book to be reading while the U.S. war in Afghanistan staggered to its conclusion. Elizabeth Becker, a war correspondent in 1970s Cambodia and later with NPR and the NY Times, provided You Don't Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War. Her subjects are French photojournalist, Catherine Leroy; the inquisitive Frances Fitzgerald, a privileged daughter of an American diplomatic muckety-muck who cut loose from the expectations of her surroundings; and the Australian reporter Kate Webb who endured capture by enemy fighters. Their war was the sprawling conflict that spread across Indochina between 1955 and 1975. Here in the U.S., we usually call it just "Vietnam." And, as women journalists, they weren't supposed to be there at all -- reporting a war was exclusively a man's job and they were interlopers.

Because they weren't supposed to be there at all, they all arrived pretty much the same way: they paid for their own one-way tickets to Saigon and started working at whatever presented itself. Civilians could simply fly into South Vietnam and try to make a way, a notion that seems quaint today. (Though there was a moment in Afghanistan, say 2005 or so, when that might have been possible if you were bold enough.) Against long odds, they found outlets that would pay for what they saw, enough to get by on. And they followed their instincts, inventing new ways to escape military media handlers and cover a war.
Catherine Leroy spent most of her time on the battlefield taking striking photographs of war in the moment, stripped of patriotic poses. Frances Fitzgerald, the American magazine writer, filled a huge void by showing the war from the Vietnamese point of view [Fire in the Lake, 1972] and winning more honors than any other author of a book about the war. Kate Webb, the Australian combat reporter, burrowed inside the Vietnamese and Cambodian armies and society with such determination that a top journalism prize for Asian journalists is named in her honor.
These women were professionals, of necessity also adventurers, sometimes fragile, and usually remarkably courageous. Becker is a lively story teller and their stories make good tales.

But I value this book almost as much for Becker's accompanying account of the complicated, multifaceted course of the long Vietnam war. I grew to adulthood consuming reportage of this war, trying to keep track of self-immolating Buddhists and corrupt Catholics; of Communists who were building a nation and other Vietnamese who were dependents of or revolting against French and then U.S. imperialists. The boys of my generation might be drafted into the maelstrom and thousands were. Along with at least 3 million Vietnamese, 50,000 of those American boys died; many who came home were broken in body and spirit. And somehow the war spread into Cambodia and Laos. Sentient members of my generation knew it was wrong somehow, but keeping track of exactly how in real time was very confusing. On the home front, the war broke trust in the U.S. government and in both political parties.

Becker weaves the stories of these three women into a simple and readable narrative of the "Vietnam War." That's a huge accomplishment.

These women changed what was possible for women journalists in war zones. Sarah Chayes in Kandahar and Carlotta Gall from Kabul and Pakistan; Anne Garrels from Baghdad; and Lynsey Addario in Libya built upon their legacy during our unlamented "War on Terror."

That entire project has been irredeemable, but I'm grateful for its women chroniclers. Every one makes the human cost more imaginable.