Sunday, October 31, 2021


After a seemingly unremitting siege of grief and death in these pandemic years, we enter the season of the Día de los Muertos (Oct 31-November 2) and the Christian Allhallowtide, (Halloween, the feast of All Saints, and the feast of All Souls). This moment in "the thin place," during which, in Celtic lore, heaven and earth come closest, feels both fraught and more evident than ever.
This year I raise up the memory of two women who were part of my childhood, even if neither was much part of my life when I grew up. Both died this past year.

I find I have childhood pictures of them both.

Her dress here was a Halloween costume, though I think it would be fair to say she delighted in the image she'd assumed. Marjorie Putnam Adams was the only one of my first cousins who was within ten years of my age; all the others were at least 10 years older, pre-WWII babies. The family expected that we should bond. I think we both tried, but each of us found the other incomprehensible and perhaps not much fun.

Marjorie devoted her later life to promoting our great grandfather, Doc Adams, for induction into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame as "One of the True Fathers of Baseball." The New York Times ran a lovely obituary account of that as yet incomplete quest.

• • •

Martha "Marchy" Zietlow Bowden was my closest friend until about age 13. She lived across the street. We shared a nearly insatiable appetite for playing catch with softballs which we threw over the 50 foot high branches of elm trees in the middle of our residential street. Our parents complained that we were going to be run over by cars -- and this was not entirely unreasonable -- but there was no stopping us of a summer evening. We'd go on until we could no longer see.

We attended different elementary schools, but later the same high school. And there we drifted apart. Occasionally we exchanged Christmas cards, but I've never been good at that custom.

She died last week in Beverly, Mass. Here's a sweet obituary.

• • •

The eighteenth century preacher and hymn lyricist Issac Watts' paraphrase of Psalm 90 comes to mind:

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
soon bears us all away. ...

When it is one's age peers departing this life in perfectly normal circumstances, it's hard not to contemplate mortality. And why not? We will all go. Think how much more of a clogged mess the planet would be if all the humans ever born hung around, taking up space and resources forever ...

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Saturday scenes: disconcerting Halloween on Telegraph Hill

The denizens of toney Telegraph Hill do mark the fall holiday. At least a few of them. With its near vertical streets and a cost of housing appropriate to robber barons and their servants, this neighborhood is not likely home to swarms of trick-or-treating children. Nor, for that matter, reveling young adults.
But some residents try. A little ominous, don't you think?
Menace is one theme.
But also there's plenty of goofy.
And a few more elaborate tableaus.
If you live in a mansion, you can really go for it.
Halloween lives, in the least hospitable of environments.

All seen while Walking San Francisco.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Friday cat blogging

Something is tormenting the mighty hunter. Can Janeway find a way to get at it? Probably not. Such is the frustrating life of a predator around here.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Who gets to be an American?

I think of mass post-Civil War immigration to the United States as founded in a radical definition of citizenship and then divisible into three periods.

The 14th Amendment (1868), passed to ensure the rights of formerly enslaved persons freed by the Civil War, established the basis for "birthright citizenship" -- if you are born in this country, you are a citizen. Our right wingers still don't like that. And this definition meant the children born to migrants here had unchallengeable citizenship.

In the later 19th century, there were the great southern and eastern European waves of desperate former peasants looking for a better life who were welcomed by the robber barons of industrialization as cheap labor. Think Ellis Island and large sections of East Coast and Midwestern U.S. cities where Italian, or Polish, or German served as the everyday languages for a time. This wave also brought many Jews escaping pograms in czarist Russia and imperial Austrian territories.

That migrant flow ran into a slammed door in 1924 when Congress imposed "national origin quotas" favoring northern Europeans and barring Asian migrants altogether. The aim was to radically reduce immigration and this more or less worked for forty years. Nobody in power was even thinking about Spanish speakers from south of the border -- many of whom came and went without regard for the system in this era.

Finally, in 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act once again opened the doors to migrants. The multi-racial, multi-cultural fabric of the contemporary United States is the result.

In each of these periods -- including the present one -- there were the formal rules and also continuing pressure for changes, whether toward more restriction or more openness. There were loopholes which sometimes worked for some individuals. Or didn't. Congress occasionally made exceptions to its own rules. Quite often who got in and who didn't was a matter of luck, sometimes abetted by lighter skin color. Organized immigrants and their supporters agitated for changes. And the "system" began to look more and more like an incomprehensible crazy-quilt mess -- just as immigration policy does today.

Jia Lynn Yang, the national editor of the New York Times, chronicles that middle time, the era of restrictive national quotas, in One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965.

She's a story teller whose history is studded with villains. Senator Pat McCarran (D-Nevada) saw pretty much all immigrants as spies bringing godless Communism to the country. McCarran partnered with the racist Mississippian Senator James Eastland to stymie post-World War II liberalization to assist the masses of refugees -- "displaced persons," many of them Jews -- in the wake of the conflict and the camps. Yet in one of those oddments which legislative sausage-making can throw up, their anti-communist immigration bill removed the explicit racial exclusions that had been in previous laws and offered a 2000 person Asian quota. For this reason, the Japanese-American Citizens League threw their weight behind what was otherwise a viciously regressive measure. Yes -- immigration reform is tangled, difficult, and full of ugly compromises.

Yang also has her heroes. Presidents Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson come off well in her telling. But her real heroes are the legislators -- New York's Emmanuel Celler in the House and Senator Herbert Lehman in the Senate -- who pushed relentlessly for a more open immigration policy. Their lot was a series of defeats, and finally a breakthrough, culminating the overthrow of the restrictive national quota system in 1965.

Her commentary on the reform finally passed is interesting:

The law's transformative impact would take years to reveal itself. Initially, as reform advocates had intended, the number of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe increased and surpassed the number of arrivals from the rest of the continent. But though writers of the law were committed to ending racial immigration quotas in principle, they had not anticipated that many more immigrants would soon be arriving from Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America -- or that the law's own mechanics would encourage their numbers. ... 
... It was not merely the types of immigrants entering the country that changed. The 1965 law also ushered in a return to mass immigration that had not been seen since the turn of the twentieth century. ... 
... The people who fought for the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act knew what it was like to live in a country that embraced a race-based definition of itself. They watched the grisly consequences during and after World War II, and they recognized that a nation with an immigration system built on racism could not be defended in an ideological war. But they also could not imagine living in a country as thoroughly multiracial as the United States is today. That means for those Americans who want ethnic pluralism to be a foundational value of their nation, there is unfinished work. The current generation of immigrants and children of immigrants -- like those who came before -- must articulate a new vision for the current era, one that embraces rather than elides how far America has drifted from its European roots. ...
Perhaps inevitably, Yang's history of mid-twentieth century immigration struggles elides what any of this meant to those even further down the country's oppressive ladder than the new immigrants -- native people and the descendants of the enslaved people for whom the foundational 14th amendment was written. They too are here.

The tone Yang has embraced in writing this history struck me as unusual on such a fraught subject. The adjectives that came to mind while reading were two: immigration policy often evokes judgmental assessments, but Yang seems always judicious. And throughout she is generous to her subjects, some of whom were simply corrupt and repulsive. 

Amid political cacophony, her approach feels novel -- and perhaps wise. We'll all find out what her generation makes of our perennial American identity crisis.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Is the fix in?

So it seem to me, when I read this headline this morning:

It feels naive to have hoped it might be otherwise. Here's a bit of the report:

A Wisconsin judge ruled Monday that attorneys in the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial could refer to the men the teen shot in Kenosha, Wis., last year as “rioters,” “looters” and “arsonists.” They could not, however, describe Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, who were killed, and Gaige Grosskreutz, who was wounded, as “victims” because the term was “loaded,” the judge said.

But Mr. Judge -- those guys are dead. Dead by the hand of Kyle Rittenhouse. 

Sure, they weren't angels. From what I've read, they were a sort of younger white man who often turns up at protests, especially at ones on the edge of violence. Brave, foolhardy, and taking up too much space in circumstances where actual injured parties ought to be front and center. They can be infuriating.

But it can't be alright to shoot them.

I will not be surprised if Rittenhouse gets off on all but the "minor in gun possession" charge -- which is indisputable. 

So then the question becomes, will Rittenhouse lend his celebrity as an acquitted killer to the white nationalists who have defended him? Or might he have the decency to slink off and do some growing up in obscurity? If the judicial process is unable to name the reality of what went down, that's the best we can hope for.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Patriot Act is 20 years old

On October 26, 2001, President George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act, into law. (That's the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism [USA PATRIOT] Act of 2001" if you want to get formal about it.)

(Ashleigh Nushawg/Flickr)
According to the ACLU:

Hastily passed 45 days after 9/11 in the name of national security, the Patriot Act was the first of many changes to surveillance laws that made it easier for the government to spy on ordinary Americans by expanding the authority to monitor phone and email communications, collect bank and credit reporting records, and track the activity of innocent Americans on the Internet. While most Americans think it was created to catch terrorists, the Patriot Act actually turns regular citizens into suspects.
In those fraught days after 9/11, American Muslims saw the new law as a gun aimed straight at their community. They weren't wrong; hostile surveillance and harassment have been a constant in American Muslim life over the last two decades. The law too often has been understood as a license for various law enforcement agencies to participate in putting these vulnerable Americans on notice that they are different and perhaps dangerous.

CAIR (the Council on American–Islamic Relations) has served as a leading umbrella civil rights organization for many embattled Muslim communities for the last two decades, as well as participated in broader human rights coalitions. For the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Patriot Act, the group polled American Muslims about whether they still felt under siege:
• 63% of American Muslims say they believe American media coverage of Muslims has not become more accurate since 9/11

• 69% said they experienced one or more incidents of anti-Muslim bigotry or discrimination since 9/11

• 34% said anti-Muslim rhetoric after 9/11 had an impact on their mental health


• 63% say their mosques have engaged in more interfaith dialogue since 9/11

• 95% say they always or sometimes speak up in response to anti-Muslim remarks

• 181 American Muslims ran for office in 2020
More here.

CAIR concludes:

Overturning these unconstitutional policies, such as the disastrous watchlist system, is within reach if we work together, inshallah.

Monday, October 25, 2021

A pretty picture

If it didn't so imply so much disruption and destruction, this morning's rainfall accumulation map would be simply beautiful. Click to enlarge.

And no, this atmospheric river doesn't bring the end of the drought. Drought in California is about snow accumulation in the mountains and spring melt filling the underground water table. October runoff doesn't do it,

But this storm might have brought a halt to fire season in the northern part of the state,

Sunday, October 24, 2021

On making a better face of the world

Timothy Snyder is a real deal historian. He teaches the modern history of Eastern and Central Europe at Yale and at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. His Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler and Stalin is an essential text for re-including in our awareness vast parts of that continent we learned to ignore during the Cold War.

The election of Donald Trump inspired Snyder in 2017 to write On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, accessible reflections which might be useful in a country suddenly finding itself governed by a racist authoritarian. The book was a best seller.

In 2021, Snyder is back with a new edition, with commentary somewhat updated for a new moment of danger and hope, now illustrated by Nora Krug.  The new edition is once again a best seller on Amazon. I'm encountering it via his Substack podcast where he is reading the entries aloud. Last week Lesson 4 turned up in my email inbox.
Take responsibility for the face of the world. The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.” 
Life is political, not because the world cares about how you feel, but because the world reacts to what you do. The minor choices we make are themselves a kind of vote, making it more or less likely that free and fair elections will be held in the future. In the politics of the everyday, our words and gestures, or their absence, count very much.
In conclusion, he adds that removing negative symbols -- such as monuments to Confederate generals -- is not enough.
... Taking responsibility for the face of the world also means thinking about what the world should be. ... Without the future, democracy if very hard to maintain. ... Part of taking responsibility for the face of the world is thinking about what the future should look like and taking seriously the people who labor in the direction of  generating possibilities, aesthetic possibilities and moral possibilities."

Given this conclusion, I was a bit surprised that Snyder made no recognition that people all over this country -- most frequently in blue cities and college towns, but in corners everywhere -- have been displaying alternative signage during the last five years, repudiating encroaching fascism and offering better values. For too many observers, it has become a mark of sophistication to mock "Resistance" to Trumpism as a kind of performative self-indulgence. Do the resisters really accomplish anything? Probably both yes -- and never enough. 

But might we not be wiser to applaud Resistance signage as an attempt to put out front alternative humane values? A decent democracy needs more than is proposed here; a fair economy that values workers would be one element of such a polity. So would a reduction of reliance on violence and the military. Not to mention stopping with the fossil fuels! But we need a starting place, and for many, this declaration provides one.

Over the last five years I have been walking and photographing every corner of San Francisco, from toney St. Francis Woods to the rundown avenues of the Bayview. Nowhere I have walked has been without this signage of hope.
Let's not knock this performance of "resistance" -- it's a form of "taking responsibility for the face of the world." It's not enough; but it preserves and advances something precious.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

There's a sucker born every minute

The independent mini-markets that mostly sell a few edibles and booze to the neighborhood have begun displaying new signage. 

I was a mildly astonished to see what some corner stores are peddiling now.

Yes, you can get your bitcoin at the same place you buy your lottery ticket. Somehow this doesn't increase my confidence in cryptocurrency. I assume the whole thing is a ponzi scheme to fleece the unwary.

Bitcoin enthusiasts will be displeased that I look for explanation of the bitcoin phonomenon to economist Paul Krugman:

... cryptocurrencies play almost no role in normal economic activity. Almost the only time we hear about them being used as a means of payment — as opposed to speculative trading — is in association with illegal activity, like money laundering or the Bitcoin ransom Colonial Pipeline paid to hackers who shut it down.

... If normal, law-abiding people don’t use cryptocurrency, it’s not for lack of effort on the part of crypto boosters. Many highly paid person-hours have been spent trying to find the killer app, the thing that will finally get the masses using Bitcoin, Ethereum or some other brand daily.

But I’ve been in numerous meetings with enthusiasts for cryptocurrency and/or blockchain, the concept that underlies it. In such meetings I and others always ask, as politely as we can: “What problem does this technology solve? What does it do that other, much cheaper and easier-to-use technologies can’t do just as well or better?” I still haven’t heard a clear answer.

... a long-running Ponzi scheme requires a narrative — and the narrative is where crypto really excels.

First, crypto boosters are very good at technobabble — using arcane terminology to convince themselves and others that they’re offering a revolutionary new technology, even though blockchain is actually pretty elderly by infotech standards and has yet to find any compelling uses.

Second, there’s a strong element of libertarian derp — assertions that fiat currencies, government-issued money without any tangible backing, will collapse any day now....

But hey, you can gamble in Bitcoin right at your corner store.

Friday, October 22, 2021

GOPers hope they can pull off their own local steal

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin kicked off his campaign against the Republican attempt to recall him yesterday before a fully vaccinated crowd at the SEIU Laborers Local 87 headquarters.

The guy only took office in January 2020, just in time for the pandemic. He ran on a raft of progressive promises: to make jail time a last resort response to criminal activity; to provide support to crime victims; and to hold police and corporations accountable to the laws -- not just poor, Black, and Brown men.

Guess what? He's not God and there's still much wrong with the criminal "justice" system in San Francisco, some of it novel in the context of COVID.

But from the viewpoint of some of San Francisco's elite, Boudin wasn't supposed to win election at all. They had a candidate. San Francisco's mayor tried to fix the election by appointing her choice as "acting" before the vote. It was going to be a smooth transition -- and then this uppity public defender grabbed the imagination of an electorate seeking something new and better, and "stole" the office.

Yes, this recall is an elite version of "the Steal!" 

Recall backers have rounded up some local hacks to front for them, but basically this is about Republican donors and other power players trying to oust an elected official who thinks he works for all San Franciscans, not just them. 

48 Hills published a good run down of who is paying for this recall. There's plenty of national real estate developer and right wing money coming into this one, along with big sums from our local Trump-fan and arts magnate Dede Wilsey.

Boudin spoke well and forcefully at this kick-off (after all he's a trial lawyer) but I was most impressed by the breadth of the coalition represented on a wet Thursday midday. This was not only the labor unions.

Recall proponents hope to manipulate justified fears in the Chinese and other Asian-origin communities about rising hate crimes against them. Former Supervisor Sandra Feuer is ready and eager to push back in support of Boudin's efforts to increase public safety and support for hate targets in the community she comes out of.

And these two, area politicos and current BART board members Lateefah Simon and Bevan Dufty, wanted this crowd to know that in the 2019 election, they'd knocked on doors for another candidate -- but they have no time for this recall. They know a genuine steal from the voters when they see one.

Boudin's original victory was narrow. He's had to try to implement changes during a pandemic which often closed down both courts and community anti-violence programs. Recall proponents have pretty much unlimited cash to throw at attacking and spreading lies about what is barely a record in office. 

And who knows whether San Franciscans will be willing to turn out -- again -- in another recall election which aims to overthrow the votes they recently cast? A vote for Boudin here defends our democratic decision making.

It's going to be a tough campaign.

Friday cat blogging: do not disturb

Here's Janeway at her most adorable, enjoying a deep sleep.
She's found her spot for cold weather -- right in front of a hot air vent.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Exposing who is paying to undermine our freedoms

Judd Legum has the story of how big mainstream corporations talk a good game about adopting feminist and anti-racist values -- and then keep shoveling cash to GOP legislators who vote for restrictions on rights. And their friends in the media play along.

Last week, a Democratic Super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, attempted to place a television ad in three Florida markets highlighting donations from Comcast, Disney, and AT&T to anti-abortion legislators.

But the ad was rejected by local cable providers. ...

Comcast claimed the ad violated its policy on "personal attacks." The ad, of course, was not personal but reflected an important policy concern. Spectrum said the ad violated its policies without elaborating. 

Earlier this month, the same Super PAC was blocked from running digital ads on the Dallas Morning News that criticized AT&T for supporting sponsors of Texas' abortion ban. 

It appears there are two sets of rules. Corporations are able to spend unlimited sums on TV and online to burnish their image. But critics of corporate power are not given access to the same platforms.

Two-faced corporations have a lot to hide.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

We need truth. We need truth tellers.

The Swedish committee which awards the Nobel Peace Prize annually chose two brave journalists as this year's winners. Maria Ressa of the Philippines and Dmitry Muratov of Russia both risk their lives in order to publish factual news which their violent rulers hate and fear.

Here's a short clip of Ressa explaining why she chooses her dangerous vocation.

If you don't have facts, you can't have truth. If you don't have truth, you can't have trust. If you don't have any of these three, democracy as we know it is dead.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A little Cassandra-ing of my own: war with China?

Every obituary for recently deceased General Colin Powell leads with his recognition that, at the pinnacle of a stellar career, he lent his prestige to the catastrophe which was the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  He called his war advocacy "a blot" which "will always be part of my record." Indeed.

A whole lot of U.S. foreign policy sages (and old guys who play them on TV) seem to be seeking resurrection after the War on Terror's collapse by once again looking abroad for "monsters to destroy."

And this time, if they don't manage to conduct some deft diplomacy, they could very well lead us into mass casualties and even a nuclear exchange -- as well as losing the war.

Journalist Peter Beinart was a sucker for the Iraq war, but he's not going there again. He warns against a developing bipartisan call for the U.S. to declare our willingness to fight to preserve the independence of Taiwan from China as crazy dangerous.
Since the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I’ve often wondered how much US foreign policymakers have learned from the disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq. This week offered fresh evidence that, when it comes to US policy toward China, the answer is: not nearly enough. 
In the months before America overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government, America’s leaders recklessly downplayed the war’s potential costs. ... Prominent figures, including prominent Democrats, are doing the same thing today. They’re downplaying the potential costs of an even more dangerous war, this time over Taiwan. ... 
Representative Elaine Luria ... wants to proactively give Biden, and all future presidents ... [authority for] war with China over Taiwan.  
What might such a war entail? For one thing, the US would likely lose. As Fareed Zakaria has noted, “The Pentagon has reportedly enacted 18 war games against China over Taiwan, and China has prevailed in every one.” ... The US could lose as many troops in the first few days of a war over Taiwan as it lost in the entirety of the Afghan and Iraq Wars. There’s also a genuine risk of nuclear war. ...
As was true after 9/11, the U.S. is profoundly ignorant of the passions that our big-footing about in someone else's complex historical context could (and does) evoke. China is an emerging military and economic superpower, the equal to anything we've got, in the grip of intense nationalism. To the great advantage of its current authoritarian leader, masses of Chinese appear to be very ready to subsume any domestic grievances to repudiate the "century of humiliation," the exploitative encounter with the West -- that means us. Chinese genuinely consider Taiwan merely a secessionist province, a relic of the Chinese civil war of the late 1940s, which should rightly be reabsorbed by the mainland.

Here's the best I can do for an analogy: Think how we'd react if a bunch of right wingers forcibly took over the state of Hawaii, repressed the present Hawaiian population, and then thumbed their noses at the U.S. mainland. And if, from across the Pacific Ocean, China backed up the wingers now ruling Hawaii. I suspect we'd have feelings.

A significant difference is that Taiwan is only 100 miles from the Chinese mainland, not 2500 miles.

And another difference is that the Taiwanese managed to claw their way to building their own vibrant economy and an enviable liberal democratic state since breaking off from the mainland. Modern Taiwan is a success for that rule-of-law idea we claim to aspire to. This seems to be a desirable outcome to most Taiwanese. China, on the other hand, seems to be getting more oppressive by the day. If mainland China gets its way, Taiwan would go the way of Hong Kong, its freedoms eviscerated and its distinctiveness erased.

Former U.S. foreign service officer Chas Freeman, who happened to be serving as an interpreter on President Nixon's ground-breaking trip to China, offers his nuanced account of the tangled U.S. commitments and interests in Taiwan and China in the linked article. We have not been sure-footed and if we are to avoid war, we will need to be. And Taiwan looks to be in very rough seas.

Beinart begs for more U.S. sophistication before we let our leaders take us into another "dumb war, a rash war."
... through many Afghan or Chinese eyes, the US doesn’t look like a champion of freedom at all. It looks like the most recent foreign power seeking to violently subjugate their nation.
In official Washington, in fact, the legacy of Western imperialism is even more absent from discussions of China than from discussions of Afghanistan, where people at least occasionally trot out cliches about the Hindu Kush being a “graveyard of empire.”  
... But without discussing China’s “century of humiliation” at the hands of Britain, France, Japan and yes, the US—which dated from roughly the First Opium War in 1839 until the end of the Chinese civil war in the late 1940s—it’s hard to understand why the CCP can convince many of its constituents that America’s rhetoric about democracy, economic fairness, and the “rules-based order” is a smokescreen for its efforts to keep China subservient and divided. “Every schoolchild in China and every educated Chinese person knows about the ‘century of humiliation,’” the historian Stephen R. Platt told The New York Times a couple of years ago. Has a top Biden administration official ever publicly used the phrase?
So here we are again. Are the people of the U.S. ready to be led into a war on the other side of the Pacific in circumstances about which most of us know exactly nothing?

We have built up some resistance. By 2008, most of us knew Iraq and probably Afghanistan were futile adventures, more crimes than mistakes. So we elected Obama and discovered how little power politicians have to overcome the inertia of wars once they get underway. (Kudos to Joe Biden for cutting the cord on Afghanistan.)

But as was true after a similar popular evolution from jingoism to revulsion about the Vietnam war, enough time has passed so we're looking inward, not outward. Once again, our leaders threaten to get us embroiled in a context about which we are ignorant. Once again, as in 2001, there's no popular organized mass peace movement. Maybe we could start early this time -- inform ourselves as best we can -- and let the powers-that-be know we want them to navigate these shoals without war!

Monday, October 18, 2021

In which Erudite Partner raises up Cassandras for our time

As the late, and unlamented, War on Terror drifts out of memory, Congresswoman Barbara Lee has finally been rendered some props for standing up on the floor of Congress in 2001 and warning that our rush to vengeance was simply wrong. She urged that we should not “become the evil we deplore.” We didn't listen.

For this stance, she can be compared to the mythical daughter of the king of Troy in Homer's Odyssey, the princess Cassandra, who warned that fighting the Greeks would end in destruction of the kingdom. She saw horror ahead. Nobody listened.

In 2003, nobody who mattered listened to the literal millions of people around the world who warned against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. George W. Bush crashed ahead into ignominy and failure.

Erudite Partner praises Barbara Lee -- and asks us to look around and listen to the Cassandras of our time -- in her latest essay for TomDispatch.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Why won't they get their shots?

Most of us know someone who insists they won't get the coronavirus vaccine. As the number of unvaccinated persons shrinks, thanks to persistent persuasion and broader mandates, the sort of refusers I least understand are the hippie health nuts. Why would these nice, inoffensive folks be joining hard core libertarians protesting mask mandates and free shots? Eva Wiseman found such a person to profile in The dark side of wellness: the overlap between spiritual thinking and far-right conspiracies. The story is enlightening.

Melissa Rein Lively had always thought of herself as a spiritual person. Her interests were grounded in “wellness, natural health, organic food”, she lists for me today from her home in Arizona, “yoga, ayurvedic healing, meditation, etc.” When the pandemic hit she started spending more time online, on wellness sites that offered affirmations, recipes and, on health, the repeated message to “Do your research.” She’d click on a video of foods that boost immunity and she’d see a clip about the dangers of vaccines. ... 
“Much of what I read took a hard stance against the pharmaceutical industry and western medical philosophy, and was particularly critical of individuals like Bill Gates, who seemed to have an incredible amount of influence and involvement in public health policy,” continues Rein Lively. At first, she enjoyed what she was reading. She liked learning. She liked the community. She liked the idea that there were patriots in the government who were working quietly to help save the world. But as she clicked on and read about imminent genocide under the guise of a health crisis, she felt herself changing. ... 
She was becoming convinced that nothing was really what it seemed; that there was a carefully constructed narrative being told, which was designed to control society. “I was willing to expand my thinking and consider a completely alternative theory, especially during a time of unprecedented chaos. What if nothing was what it seemed?” It was shocking, she says, and horrifying, and also, “Oddly comforting. What I had felt I knew was true, and others knew the same thing. ..."
Ms. Lively eventually suffered a very public cognitive explosion in a Target store where she attacked an array of masks -- a performance which, because she possessed the cash to obtain real help, caused her to be hospitalized for a mental health intervention. This nudged her back into consensus reality. She's brave to tell her story.

Dr. Timothy Caulfield studies pseudoscience enthusiasms. He explains:

“There is a strong correlation between the embrace of ‘wellness woo’ and being susceptible to misinformation. And as conspiracy theories and misinformation become increasingly about ideology, it becomes easier to sell both wellness bunk and conspiracy theories as being ‘on brand.’ In other words, if you are part of our community, this is the cluster of beliefs you must embrace – Big Science is evil, supplements help, you can boost your immune system, vaccines don’t work…”
Selling pseudo-spirituality, pseudo-health products, and COVID misinformation in a New Age-ish package is good business for unscrupulous entrepreneurs. And for unscrupulous politicians.

• • •

Wiseman pointed me to a TikTok influencer, Abbie Richards, whose schematic presentation of a hierarchy of conspiracy theorizing is brilliant, funny, and scary all at once. I'm not a TikTok person, but here's Richards on YouTube. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Marion Coleman: Visions of the Past; Visions for the Future

Every phase of the re-purposing of the former U.S. Navy Shipyard at Hunters Point has been fraught. Acquired by the Navy in 1940, the prime Bay anchorage was used for repairs, as well as Cold War-era missile development and radiological research. By the time the base was closed in 1994, it had been designated a toxic Superfund site. The Navy was supposed to have cleaned up the area, but reports of radioactive hot spots continue to this day. 

The city gave the contract for redevelopment to the Lennar Corporation, a Fortune 500 global construction giant, which has built over 500 new condo units. Twenty percent of these were designated for "moderate income" buyers. In May 2021, buyers won a $6.3 million settlement compensating some purchasers for loss of value as the toxicity of their location remains under study. And the struggle between Lennar and the neighborhood is by no means over.

And then there were the artists. When the Navy buildings fell vacant, some local creators saw studio space. They had a good thing going in an otherwise little used facility. Some may enjoy a future renovation.

And there was the adjoining and long suffering Bayview community, San Francisco's last surviving Black neighborhood, which launched it's own artists.

The developers have thrown Bayview's Black artists a bone. On the hillside below the condo development, there's a display of reproductions of Marion Coleman's fiber collages replicating old photos of the local community. While Walking San Francisco, I stumbled among them unexpectedly.

The Postal Service has long played an outsized role in providing good jobs. Come on, Biden -- don't let Republican appointees kill it.

Yes, we need more trees!

These women would have been contributing to the WWII war effort by winding bandages. Yes, women really did that, my mother among them.

The Honey Bees played in the city league against Coca Cola, Southern Pacific, etc. long before Bayview's own Jackie Robinson broke the color bar in Major League Baseball.

You can visit these panels any good weather day; just drive to the end of Galvez Street and walk up the hill.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Computer woes

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

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

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

So I gave up and bought a new machine.

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

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

I hate that.

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Out and about observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

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

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

Essential campaigns for justice find voices here.

Not that we're serious all the time.

Neither is the neighborhood signage.

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Out and about in Noe Valley

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

There's some weird stuff out there.

And some that's seasonal but still interesting.

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

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

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