Saturday, April 30, 2022

No on Prop. H in the June 7 election

Our progressive District Attorney has many supporters who understand he's doing the work to make all of us safer. Meet a few here.

Somebody is having a lot of fun

He was all the way across the "gate," under the far pier of the Golden Gate Bridge.
That's bold.
Here he comes. The bay is calm. What's propelling him?
That board is lifting off the water's surface.
All the way off.
Looks precarious.
The rider seems to have it all well balanced.

The craft is a foilboard -- a surfboard with a hydrofoil that extends below the board into the water. This design causes the board to leave the surface of the water at various speeds. Wikipedia
The rider sure looked to be enjoying his ride on an exceptionally calm day.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Friday cat blogging

A girl, her cat and their home destroyed by Russia #Chernihiv Photo: Oleh Tolmachov, h/t UkraineNow, Via Twitter
Way back on April 3, (it seems so long ago) George Packer wrote about the care Ukrainians are taking for their pets in these terrible times.
It’s striking how many stories and pictures from the war in Ukraine involve animals. One of the first Ukrainian civilian victims was a woman killed by Russian shelling as she tried to bring shelter dogs to safety near Kyiv. During the evacuation of the city, railway platforms and trains were crowded with pets of all kinds. A woman carried her infirm German shepherd a dozen miles on foot to cross the Polish border. A Ukrainian soldier took time to bandage the head injuries of a stray dog wounded by shelling. ...

Ukrainians and their cats need our help if we have any to give. Some suggestions from our friend the union organizer, Leo Volobrynskyy:

There was for years a saying in the U.S. peace movement: "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." Ukraine is getting arms and equipment from the US and Europe -- but its people still need our bake sale-level help. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The best recall money can buy

As San Franciscans know, or will be learning if they pay any attention to their political mail, we're about to vote on whether to recall our progressive District Attorney, Chesa Boudin. 

Republican wannabe oligarchs and a collection of sore losers want us to throw our the guy we voted for in 2018.

The proponents of the recall have truly proved you can get anything on the ballot if you pay signature gatherers enough. This chart from the San Francisco Standard tells the story.

Click to enlarge.

The amount paid for this recall is the highest per-signature payout in recent San Francisco history.

Guess it's worth a lot of money to some folks to get rid of the guy we duly elected. 

Vote no on Prop. H on the June ballot.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

More on "the economic weapon"

Preparing to write my previous post about sanctions in international affairs, I came across two contemporary commentaries that seem worth amplifying.

That always interesting commentator Jane Coaston wants nothing to do with feel-good ejections of individual Russians as protest of the Ukraine invasion. 

Banning Russian Tennis Players Won’t Stop the War. ... the All England Lawn Tennis Club (better known as the venue for The Championships at Wimbledon) joined with the British Lawn Tennis Association in banning all Russian and Belarusian players from competing at its event ...

Sports writer including Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post argue the ban is a right move. But not Coaston.

... limiting Russian influence by banning Russian and Belarusian tennis players from Wimbledon is unlikely to bring about a swifter end to the war in Ukraine or concretely damage Putin’s regime. ... feeling strong isn’t the same thing as doing the right thing, or even doing something that makes sense. Russian tennis players didn’t invade Ukraine. And punishing Russian tennis players won’t stop the war in Ukraine. But apparently the ban makes the governing bodies running Wimbledon and the L.T.A. feel as if they have done something. And seemingly, that’s good enough for them.

I'm with Coaston. The horrible reality of the invasion is too awful to be appropriated for a podium by performing sports administrators, in my view especially snotty English ones.

• • •

I almost never read editorial board opinions. I don't get the genre -- how can a publication have an opinion? But "the New York Times editorial board" actually added something essential to discussion of the current economic punishment being visited on Russia. 

... although Russia’s invasion proves that economic integration is no cure for war, economic isolation is also not a recipe for peace. Sanctions are often sold as an alternative to war. But they can also be a precursor to war, as seen with the institution of the American oil embargo against Japan and the freezing of Japanese assets about five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

So, while sanctions can hobble economies, they rarely compel the kinds of wholesale political changes that American officials would like to see. ... Change is unlikely to occur when sanctions are imposed without communicating the steps that must be taken for them to be rolled back.

All the more reason that the United States should have a clear plan for how and under what circumstances it would be appropriate to roll back these latest sanctions. Right now, this has been left deliberately vague to allow the Ukrainians to directly negotiate with Russia. It is laudable to give deference to Ukrainians whose lives are on the line in this terrible war. But creating clear goals and communicating benchmarks for sanctions relief are important factors in successful sanctions. Too often, sanctions are left in place for decades, without evaluation of whether or not they are achieving what they were put in place to do.

Exactly. My emphasis. The Ukrainians will determine how this horrible war ends and at what cost to themselves. But Russia has to know what, if anything, would allow economic reintegration with the parts of the world economy which have cut that country off. Otherwise you get ineffectual stupidity -- like U.S. sanctions on Cuba and Iran.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

A dangerous tool for dangerous times ...

Nicholas Mulder's timing was perfect. The Economic Weapon: The Rise of Sanctions as a Tool of Modern War came out in January 2022, just in time to provide a history of how economic sanctions became the go-to response to Russian aggression against Ukraine by Europe, the US, and among their allied friends.

The book is a history of how "the economic weapon" developed into something more complex than naval blockade and siege of cities in a world of global trade connections. There was nothing "nonviolent" about the application of economic warfare in World War I. In fact, the consequences to peoples severed from the international economy were harsh and brutal.
During World War I, the Allied and Associated Powers, led by Britain and France, had launched an unprecedented economic war against the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires. They erected national blockade ministries and international committees to control and interrupt flows of goods, energy, food, and information to their enemies. It was the severe impact on Central Europe and the Middle East, where hundreds of thousands died of hunger and disease and civilian society was gravely dislocated, that made the blockade seem such a potent weapon. Today, more than a century after the Great War, these measures have a different but more widely known name: economic sanctions. ... Today, economic sanctions are generally regarded as an alternative to war. But for most people in the interwar period, the economic weapon was the very essence of total war. ...
Technocratic organization had proved able to stifle all trade far more effectively than privateers and armies had in the past. Huge bureaucracies in France and Britain achieved access to banking transactions and shipping arrangements -- and they starved Germany and its allies.

So what was to become of this new weapon? The victors thought that it would be wielded by the League of Nations they founded. And they hoped that the Versailles Treaty, which penalized Germany for making war and recognized the break-up of both the old Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman empires, meant the end of war itself. (The Internationalists tells that story; that book offers a surprisingly hopeful take.) Aggression was be outlawed and sanctions would enforce the new international regime through the League of Nations. Mulder summarizes:
... the significance of ... economic sanctions lies in this momentous shift in the meaning of war and peace. A coercive policy that used to be possible only in time of war -- isolating human communities from exchange with the wider world -- now became possible in a wide range of situations. Commercial and financial blockade, a policy developed as a form of economic war, was reconceived as a prophylactic against war.
In the wake of the turbulent 1930s, probably the only thing casual students of history know about the League is that it failed to preserve the peace and its economic sanctions weapon proved unequal to halting the rise of European fascism and an expansionist Japanese empire. Mulder tells that story, but it is not simple. The threat of economic war influenced the planning and organization of both Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's aggressive Nazi state.
Sanctionists originally conceived of the economic weapon as a tool for keeping the peace within Europe. ... But the fact that post-World War I sanctions were usually considered against the periphery made them appear less a new peacekeeping practice than the latest disciplinary mechanism of Western empire ... [there was] limited enthusiasm for sanctions in the rest of the world ... [During the 1920s] memories of blockade loomed very large in the imagination of interwar Europeans and its renewed use against peace breakers represented a daunting threat to small nations.

... The Italo-Ethiopian War [1935-36] is often interpreted as a defeat for internationalism at the hands of fascism and imperialism. But from a strategic-material perspective it is better seen as the moment when the first major use of economic pressure drastically raised the stakes of using sanction as a tool to maintain world order. The League sanctions were seriously worrying to other revisionist states. Officials in Nazi German became convinced they would be the next target. In early 1936 a regime-wide drive began to achieve "blockade resilience" under the Four-Year Plan. Japan too started to worry about its prospects for regional autonomy. ... Over time, the seeming inevitability of economic war prompted both Adolf Hitler and the Japanese leadership to secure resources by any means necessary. ...
Mulder describes the notorious Hitler-Stalin Pact dividing up the states of eastern Europe as a preemptive strike against the sanctions weapon. It provided the context in which Germany could seize resources to make itself more resistant to economic warfare.
[Even as war seemed immanent in Europe],... Nazi ideology saw the origins of sanctions in wartime blockade as a foretaste of where these policies would eventually return. When the Swiss diplomat and League high commissioner Carl Burkhardt visited Hitler at this Bavarian summer residence on 11 August [1939], the Führer told him, "I need Ukraine, so they cannot starve us out like in the last war." Within two weeks, German diplomats had signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the Soviets, securing large deliveries of Caucasian oil and Ukrainian grain. On August 22, Hitler declared to his generals that these supplies from the East meant that "we do not have to fear blockade." ...The invasion of Poland began two weeks later.
And in Mulder's telling Japan's trajectory was also much influenced by fear of economic war. Japan's rulers believed that only economic self-isolation and self-sufficiency -- technically "autarky" -- would enable them to achieve Asia-wide hegemony.
The Imperial Army and Navy had spent years building stockpiles, providing some cushion against immediate pressure. Officer-administrators in Manchukuo [a Japanese puppet state carved from China] rhapsodized about an immanent "Eastern Autarky," based on the yen bloc's self-sufficiency in coal, iron ore, sulphur, aluminum, salt, and wood. But in the bigger scheme of things, Japan had worked itself into a precarious situation. Invasive controls had gone hand in hand with the destruction of democracy at home, while the Japanese economy was burdened by the army's unlimited and unenviable war in China. ...Conquest was not a sustainable means to autarky. ...
The wider, more efficient, and more productive economy of the United States always had the economic upper hand, despite Japan's expansionist aggression.

Mulder concludes his examination of mid-20th century economic sanctions regimes with a pessimistic and largely negative view of his subject. Sanctions have not prevented aggressive war, nor do they usually "work" against large states. They can hinder a North Korea or punish an uppity Cuba, but they do not lead to "victory." It turns out that social and cultural forces and attachments can have as much weight in human affairs as purely economic interests. He concludes:
Perhaps the most confounding aspect of sanctions is that regardless of their technical sophistication, their outcome is never a matter of economic factors alone. Interwar sanctionists assume state behavior was driven by popular opinion and the material self-interest of populations and elites. In the light of the experience of [the aftermath of] World War I, this view was dangerously single-minded. Nationalism, fear-mongering, and violent racism surged. Ideals of cultural unity, historic rights to territory, and promises of self-determination and social transformation mobilized millions of Europeans. Given the power of such ideas to move entire societies, how would economic pressure alone dissuade them from repeating such collective struggle? ...

... Economic sanctions do not project only material force; they also project political, social, and cultural values. Sanctions would no doubt work better in a world of perfectly rational, consistently self-interested subjects, but this is not the world we inhabit. Most people in most places at most times make collective choices on the basis of a wider set of considerations. The economic weapon may be a form of politics by other means. But ultimately, stitching animosity into the fabric of international affairs and human exchange is of limited use in changing the world.

Ukrainians certainly are showing there are potent forces beyond the economic. And yet -- it usually seems preferable that we at least try to pursue our antagonisms without a shooting war. But as their early advocates knew, there is nothing nonviolent about cutting a country off from the world economy.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Residents of Puerto Rico not eligible for SSI says the Supreme Court

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens -- except when Congress decides to discriminate against residents of the island territory. That's the effective content of a ruling last week that Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico cannot participate in the federal program called Supplemental Security Income, which provides benefits to older, disabled and blind Americans. The program is available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to all citizens.

It's no wonder that Puerto Ricans have been and remain conflicted about whether to seek to have their island become a U.S. state. When U.S. expansion across the continent meant mostly white settlers dispossessing the native inhabitants, it was taken for granted that the new lands would eventually become states. But a land seized from Spain's collapsing empire in 1898 presented a new situation. Would the U.S. be willing to absorb a Spanish-speaking colony as an equal part of the whole?

At best, only half-heartedly. Though Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, what democracy the island enjoys has come in fits and starts. Like our other quasi-colony, the District of Colombia, Congress can and does meddle quite directly in local affairs. 

Puerto Ricans' exclusion from SSI seems a gratuitous insult. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose family moved to the mainland from Puerto Rico, was the only dissenter:

“In my view, there is no rational basis for Congress to treat needy citizens living anywhere in the United States so differently from others. To hold otherwise, as the Court does, is irrational and antithetical to the very nature of the SSI program and the equal protection of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution. I respectfully dissent.”

The Biden administration did include extending SSI to U.S. territories in its omnibus "Build Back Better" bill -- now apparently hopelessly stuck in the Senate.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Chronicle gets this right

I don't expect anything I care about or anyone in politics who I support to get the endorsement of the local bird cage liner. (Does anyone still use a newspaper for that?)

But the San Francisco Chronicle has called this properly.

... San Franciscans put their trust in Boudin, who promised to pursue a more compassionate form of criminal justice that “diverted” nonviolent offenders away from jails and prisons and toward court-monitored rehabilitation programs that could potentially help them escape the cycle of recidivism.

Scaling up diversion is an experiment — one that we are now in the middle of. True to his campaign promise, Boudin is diverting a far greater percentage of cases than his predecessors.

Critics have branded this approach “catch and release.” But this is a cynical depiction of the plan voters knew they were signing up for.

Recall is a last-ditch tool for emergencies, not buyer’s remorse. And San Franciscans should respond accordingly by voting no on Proposition H.

Look, I know we're all post-pandemic pissy. I can tell every time I'm driving down a normal city street and some nut swerves around me on the left at 50 miles an hour to gain one car length before the next light. We're all a little crazed. 

But this city can do better than to let some rich Republicans and assorted sore losers who wanted another D.A. candidate trash Boudin's experiment before it barely starts.

Good for the Chron. No on H on June 7.

It's Eastertide for most Ukrainians

Click to enlarge

Because the Orthodox Church in most of its permutations tells time on the Julian calendar, Easter in Orthodox lands takes place this weekend, not last, as in the West. 

Russia's war in Ukraine reaches into the Orthodox church. While the Russian Patriarch Kirill is a fearsome supporter of Putin's invasion, some of his priests have protested:

More than 320 signed a letter last week accusing Kirill of “heresy” for his warmongering and demanding he be brought before an ecclesiastical tribunal to be deposed.

“Kirill committed moral crimes by blessing the war against Ukraine and fully supporting the aggressive actions of Russian troops on the Ukrainian territory,” they wrote. “It is impossible for us to remain in any form of canonical submission to the Patriarch of Moscow." (The political tensions between Russia and Ukraine had already led to a split within the latter’s Orthodox community, with some congregations no longer associating themselves with the Moscow patriarchate.)

Churches fracture. Nothing novel here, but part of religious life in a connected world.

Tom Nichols is a U.S. expert on Russia and an Orthodox Christian. He has spent a life trying to understand Russia's contradictions. His newsletter essay on the war is a remarkable, personal, account of love for Russians and Orthodoxy. And he reaches a painful conclusion about current developments:

The Western media, in my view, have not paid enough attention to the religious aspect of this war, and in particular Putin’s insistence that he is acting to unite something like an Orthodox Christian empire. ... The religious aspect of this war is difficult for Americans to understand, not only because Orthodoxy is a relatively small denomination in the United States, but because it is an explanation that runs counter to the various narratives of great power conflict, or civilizational clash, or academic realism, all of which to some extent have filled in as explanations for why Putin has launched a fratricidal war with the full approval of the Russian Patriarch. ... And so this week I will go to church, and pray for peace, and in penitence, I will pray for mercy—for me, for the victims of this slaughter, and for my brothers and sisters in my faith who are conducting, and cheering on, this obscene war.

Timothy Snyder, that seemingly omnipresent academic scholar of historical barbarism in Europe, also adds a dark vision of the religious element of the war.

A certain kind of focus on the death of Jesus has a way, in politics at least, of dissolving responsibility for action.  One convenient interpretation of Jesus dying for our sins is that we are innocent.  And then the question arises as to who "we" are.  Those within our group can be seen as free of sin, regardless of what we do, whereas the others can be seen as sinners, regardless of what they do. ...

... Putin’s rhetoric about this war make sense within such a framework.  In a rally, Putin quoted the Bible to celebrate the death of Russians in battle.  He said that their death had made the nation more unified than ever before.  

... May 9th, Putin’s deadline for victory in the Easter Offensive, is itself a kind of secular Easter: it is the day of commemoration of the Soviet victory in the Second World War, in which the death of millions of Soviet soldiers in the 1940s is presented as a permanent redemption of Russia — and a justification of Putin’s wars. When death supplies the meaning, more death supplies more meaning.

Jesus -- save us from your followers, and from our own worst selves.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Take that, book burners!

Don't be so fearful.


Trust the young people.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Friday cat blogging

Janeway is a born hunter. Since she's long since killed or frightened off any mice stupid enough to try living here, she's left with scanning ceiling moldings for spiders.

She has spotted her prey -- check the upper right corner.
Fortunately for the spider -- and for me sitting at my desk below -- she thought better of challenging gravity. But she yearned to make that leap ...

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Another COVID milestone

This is so wrong. In order to score political points, Republicans have been willing to cast public health interventions against the pandemic -- shutdowns, masks, vaccines -- as partisan hoaxes. And the result has been literally deadly to their own voters. 

Philip Bump tells the story with a series of charts:

Thanks in part to President Donald Trump having argued that the virus posed little risk and was soon going to vanish from the United States, Republicans began to express far less concern about being infected. They reported being less likely to take preventive measures against contracting the disease, such as wearing a mask. And, over time, Republican parts of the country began seeing higher rates of mortality than places that voted for Joe Biden in November 2020.

And, inextricably, White Americans — a demographic the vast majority of Republicans are part of — began consistently dying at higher rates than non-Whites.

Black citizens were slow to get on the vaccine bandwagon for all the usually cited reasons, from distrust of the medical authorities to poverty. But Republican sabotage has achieved an improbable result:

While the rate of covid-19 deaths among Black Americans was higher than that for Whites in each of the first 15 months of the pandemic, White Americans started seeing higher rates last September — when the delta variant was hammering red states and as the vaccination divide was really starting to be felt.

It’s likely that this month White Americans will have seen a higher per capita death rate than Black Americans for the first time during the pandemic. That change is clearly attributable in large part to attitudes about masking and vaccination, and those attitudes are attributable to partisanship.

It's downright unAmerican to see racist White politicians set their White followers up to suffer more than Black people. But the current set of GOPer pols have managed it -- and they are killing their dupes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Joe Biden is not inspiring confidence

I have to admit, I'm not sure I understand why. To me, he looks to be doing a decent job of the work of being president.

Sure there's plenty to criticize: choose your poison. My picks are immigration policy, climate crisis measures, and student loan forgiveness; you've probably got your own. But it seems to me we're seeing high competence where executive branch competence counts: the NLRB, the FCC, the EPA, etc. A ground breaking appointment to the Supremes (that poor long suffering woman!) And Biden seems to be doing a very good job of holding together and leading without domineering in the international effort to support Ukraine's struggle against Russian imperialism. That ain't nothing. In fact that last might be a life or death matter.

Joe Biden seems rather good at the job of President; but evidently, and I can see this, he's not so good at playing a President on TV.
• • •
A couple of data points:
“If America were confronted with a crisis like a war or another pandemic, how confident are you that President Joe Biden would be physically and mentally up to the job.” (NH Journal, April 14-16, 503 registered New Hampshire voters)
Very/somewhat confident: 42%
Not very/not at all confident: 54%
Biden won New Hampshire decisively in 2020, by 7 points, after placing lower in the state’s primary than any other modern presidential nominee. He’s declined there as much as he’s declined anywhere, and this less-than-comfortable question gets at why. The idea that the president could not handle a new crisis, even if his instincts are right, has permeated with swing voters. By a 13-point margin, registered New Hampshire voters disapprove of how Biden is handling “investing in infrastructure,” which Democrats consider a slam-dunk midterm issue, so much so that Biden headed to the state on Tuesday to talk about it. -- David Weigel
[Nevada] voters also indicated that they preferred Trump to Biden on the issue of Ukraine. Forty percent of voters said Trump could handle the situation in Ukraine better. Twenty-nine percent of voters said they preferred Biden. The Nevada Independent
• • •
Is our reaction to Biden just ageism? Are we really addicted to being governed by blowhards? We've got a Republican Party whose entire message is that we should be very afraid of something. And there are real dangers ...

Time to be talking with voters ... what are people thinking?

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Getting out the vote for David Campos

Folks from the National Union of Healthcare Workers were knocking on doors today in the Mission.

We'll see soon enough whether buckets of money can boost an ambitious opportunist into a California State Assembly seat over a neighborhood champion. If it happens, it won't be the first time.

Eligible voters got their ballots by mail weeks ago. Polls close at 8pm.

Shards from the Embattled Republic

An occasional list of links to provoking commentary. Some annotated by me.

Barbara F. Walter writing at The New Republic: "...The United States is the first white majority country in the world to go through this grand demographic transformation, but it will not be the last. The world will be watching how we, as a multiethnic, multi­religious democracy, navigate this change. The declining white majority can choose to further weaken our democracy in an attempt to institutionalize minority rule, and continue to stoke racial fears. They may think that this is an attractive strategy that ensures that power will remain in their hands for generations. What they don’t realize is that this also leads them closer to civil war." Actually, I fear more and more of the members of the old white majority think civil war might relieve their anxiety. That's a dangerous fantasy.

Political scientist Liliana Mason reports: "White Democrats and Republicans had basically identical levels of racial resentment in 1986; today they’re 40 points apart. So one of the most passionate divides that we’re seeing between the parties right now, more than it has been in decades, is, does systemic racism exist? Does systemic sexism exist? Have we done enough to overcome it? Have we gone too far?"

The Why Axis

From Convergence Magazine: "'Being part of the 2020 effort was one of the most profound experiences of my life,'” Stephanie Greenlea [from the union UniteHERE] said. “'In a moment of such intense and global rupture, with structures falling apart, and people being abandoned left and right with no net, over and over I saw people rise to the challenge, and do extraordinary things not just to improve their own lives but to build something better. That, and stories like it that are happening all over the place, need to be documented and told.'" We have experience with fighting back, our way.

Theodore Johnson, director of the Fellows Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, writing at The Bulwark, explains the likely Year of the Black Republican: "Put simply, movements like the Tea Party and Trumpism deepen partisan identity and make it far easier to identify who you’re for and who you’re against, even to the point of overlooking other traditional cues. As such, a black candidate who leans heavily into the movement’s symbols, rhetoric, and harsh critiques of prominent Democrats not only becomes an acceptable avatar but also an aegis against accusations of racial intolerance within the movement itself. Further, donning the partisan identity with the recognizable features of contemporary movement conservatism works to mitigate the perception of black Americans as beholden to big government progressivism that places these candidates at a disadvantage in Republican primaries from the outset." It's a good gig if you can get it -- and you want to take it up. People being people, we should not be surprised if some will. There is, of course, a principled Black conservatism, but that's not what Johnson is talking about.

Don Moynihan warns: "The attack on American democracy by one of the two main political parties in America should be the dominant theme of our politics right now. It’s not. It’s a five alarm fire generating a one-alarm response. I don’t know what can fix this dynamic. But we should stop assuming it will fix itself. If you like living in a democracy you should oppose the people with a record of trying to overturn elections. While such opposition still matters."  For some it's a five alarm fire, but not enough of us. It burns to keep the threat front of mind and heart. But losing democracy would be worse.

More Moynihan: "We often think about attacks on democracy in terms of election outcomes. But public administration is democracy in action. We can’t keep watching our public institutions be attacked and assume that they will still meet the expectations we place on them to provide quality public services."

A Slate book review: " ... the impression left by Lessons From the Edge: that [former U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine Marie] Yovanovitch—as well as [Fiona] Hill and [Alexander] Vindman—inhabits a different ethical universe not only from Trump but from nearly everyone else who sold their souls to work in his White House. All three were immigrants from families who viewed the U.S. as a place that enabled them to achieve what they couldn’t in their homelands. As a result, they understand America as a set of principles as much as a land or a source of sentimental patriotic identity. This may make them naïve in the eyes of some, but as Yovanovitch persuasively argues, it is people like them who stand between American democracy and the autocratic forces Trump represents." Those of us with long histories struggling for justice for immigrants are getting a reminder that it is not only poor, Salvadorans, Haitians, and Hondurans whose lives allow them to see the good potential of this imperfect country. It's also highly accomplished white professionals who migrate from the less privileged parts of Europe. Those of us with long roots here owe gratitude to our perspicacious new neighbors .

From the Los Angeles Times: "The two brothers suspected of involvement in the recent deadly shooting in Sacramento, Dandrae and Smiley Martin, share something in common besides blood. They both beat women — a warning sign for gun violence, according to researchers. In 7 of 10 mass shootings, the perpetrator (let’s be real, usually a man) either had a history of domestic violence or was targeting someone he had a relationship with. About 1 in 4 homicides in the United States are related to domestic violence, and too often include bystanders." January 1, 2019 to 26 April 2021 were big times for gun sales; 7.5 million of us became new gun owners in that period, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Jessica Valenti opines: "I often wonder if the stereotype that women have more ‘emotional intelligence’ is true or if we’re just trying not to be killed. Of course we’re attuned to the world around us, we have to be."

From the military publication Task and Purpose:  "A study released last year by Brown University’s Cost of War project estimated that 30,177 active duty service members and veterans have died by suicide since 2001. In 2020, the suicide rate for service members aged 18-24 was more than double that for civilians in the same age bracket." 

Let's give the last word here to Margaret Atwood: "Don’t panic. Think carefully. Write clearly. Act in good faith. Repeat." Apparently even Margaret Atwood has to make herself available to the public on publication of a new book. We're the luckier for it.

Monday, April 18, 2022

A little more for the Easter season

Sofika Zielyk, a Ukrainian-American ethnographer and artist, tells the story of pysanky, traditional Ukrainian Easter eggs.
"There is a very old pagan Ukrainian legend that as long as people are making Pysanka, the world will continue to exist. They believe that there is a monster chained up in a cave and each year he sends out his spies into the world to see if people are making Easter eggs. Now if the spies come back and say people are making eggs, they tighten the chains. But if the spies do not come back, the chains become looser. Eventually the monster will come out, and it will be the end of the world. ... Only women were allowed to make these eggs, so the fate of the world rested on women's shoulders. ..."

... "in the olden days, the eggs were not meant to be hung onto, they were meant to used in the Easter season, so they were buried in the ground, so the harvest would be better. ... that's the way these eggshells will be used symbolically to help with the rebirth of the nation. ..."

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Then Jesus got busy

The descent into Hell, from a 1609 Armenian Gospel miniature

Christ is risen from the dead, 
trampling down death by death, 
and on those in the tombs bestowing life!

Mark 16:6-7: “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. ...  ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’"

Time for the living to get busy.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

They laid the body in the tomb

Through Nomadic Eyes: Stations of the Cross in Lodwar Cathederal, Kenya

Pictures by artists from Turkana, Kenya. 

Ukrainian journalist-turned-soldier Viktor Dudar's mother (center) grieves at his grave as he's laid to rest in Lviv, Ukraine. Claire Harbage / NPR  

Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Friday, April 15, 2022

Good Friday 2022

Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Image from Folsom Street in the Mission.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

A necessary break

So I checked this off Wednesday. And, unlike previous rounds, this shot left me a little woozy. 

Imagine I'll be back Friday.

No line, by the way, just the usual Kaiser efficiency.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

How much direct democracy do we want?

San Francisco's current Board of Supervisors redistricting shitshow is slightly more comprehensible if we consider the history of how we got here.

Until 1977, San Francisco was one of the largest cities in the country which elected its governing body "at large." That is, in order to win a seat on the Board of Supes, candidates had to have citywide recognition and plenty of money. This suited the city fathers -- real estate developers and haute-capitalists -- just fine. But people from all over the city agitated and organized for less attenuated representation. In 1976, we passed Proposition T, instituting elections to the board from smaller, neighborhood districts where we might know our Supervisors.

The effect was immediate: in 1977, we got more women; we got Harvey Milk; we got a whole new cast of governing characters. It was a near revolutionary moment of deep polarization -- district Supervisor Dan White murdered district Supervisor Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1979. In an obscure August election in 1980, the old timers persuaded the tiny segment of people voting to repeal district elections. Progressives tried to reimpose the districts that November, but lost 48 to 52 percent.

And so the organizing to return to district elections began again. This took more than a decade and a half of patient and impatient agitation. Finally, in the November election of 1996, San Franciscans voted to return to district elections, to begin in 2000.

That meant that the city had be redistricted into 11 electoral areas. The progressives who had agitated for district elections feared they could loose the neighborhood power they had been working for if the boundary drawing went badly. We organized some more and built racial, language, and economic coalitions. (I consulted with several groups on this effort.) The redistricting commission largely listened to the organized people. The resulting districts were much like what we've lived with until this year. Then as now, District Six emerged as an arena of contention that, I was once told privately by one of the commissioners, "got most of the leftovers." Also Treasure Island, where, then as now, hardly anyone votes. That map took effect in 2000 and remained little altered by redistricting in 2010.

If I'm to believe the Chronicle, the map that this year's divided redistricting taskforce has come up with won't make much political difference. If I'm to believe Joe Eskenazi in Mission Local, the new map is a power grab by San Francisco's "moderate robber" barons. I have a long history of believing Eskenazi.

And because this is a real fight over political power and spoils in the city, we can be sure this isn't over. Look for a struggle to change the outcome by way of law suits and ballot propositions. This may go on for a few years. For as long as I've lived here, San Franciscans have rallied to local democracy. I don't see us giving up on this because some big wigs cooked the deal.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

It's tax season ...

 And Erudite Partner reminds us how much of our taxes go to fund wars.

Just the facts: Not paying taxes for unjust wars has a long history in this country.

Like all of life, it's complicated. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

They needed a union at the University of San Francisco

This short video is a delicious accouint of labor history at the University of San Francisco, too good not to share.

As her many friends know, Erudite Partner -- that's Rebecca Gordon -- has worked all this year agitating, organizing, and bargaining alongside her comrades in the Part Time Faculty Association. And, at long last, they have accomplished a tentative contract agreement with the administration, subject to ratification by the union membership. Congratulations to them all!

Meanwhile, their allies in the Full Time Faculty Association -- that's the tenured and tenure-track professors -- have made this charming historical account their own organizing struggle back in the day. It will be little surprise that it required a vote to strike to get the University bosses to give these professors the kind of pay bump all the other unionized workforce had won. 

May the PTFA follow in their footsteps -- this good contract is only a temporary victory.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Age effects

Philip Bump from the Washington Post passed along this interesting visualizaton of differential interest/concern with Russia's invasion of Ukraine invasion, by age.

He thinks he knows why old folks are so much more supportive of Ukraine than younger people. We live with memories.

I can't prove that empirically here, but the dates line up. If you are 29 or younger, you were born in 1993 or later, meaning after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. If you are aged 30 to 44, you were probably born sometime between 1978 and 1992, meaning that you probably no more than a preteen when that collapse occurred. Perhaps you similarly grew up with Russians as America's default enemy, but not in the same way.

This pattern of relative — relative! — antipathy carries over into other questions as well. For example, the vast majority of those aged 65 and up care who wins the war in Ukraine. Barely half of younger people do. If you're at least 65, you were born in 1957, a few years after the end of the Korean War.

We old people were raised immersed in terror that the evil Soviet Union/Russia would incinerate us all. We ducked and covered. Suspicion of anything that emerges from the Kremlin is deep in our psyches, even for those of us who have worked to know a little more about the world and our own country's imperial designs.

• • •

Once Bump had clued me in to these disparities, I began to see the influence of age on perceptions of the Ukraine war all around.

Joshua Yaffa reported from a Ukrainian village from which Russians had withdrawn, taking some residents with them. He tells the story of a man who was trying to explain what had happened to an elder:

He hasn’t found the words to tell his mother, who is eighty-one and suffering from dementia, about her granddaughter’s disappearance. In fact, he has avoided the details of Russia’s invasion altogether. Instead, he has explained the situation using an analogue from her childhood: “I told her, ‘Mom, the Germans are back.’ ”

He knew what catastrophe would be meaningful to her.

• • •

This one comes from an article about visible Russian opponents of Putin's war. Marat Grachev displayed an anti-war message at his Moscow computer repair shop. He was detained and fined. He described what had happened to him in terms of a generational conflict:

Mr. Grachev, the computer repair store owner, said he found it remarkable that not one of his hundreds of customers threatened to turn him in for the “no to war” text that he prominently displayed on a screen behind the counter for several weeks after the invasion. After all, he noted, he was forced to double the price of some services because of Western sanctions, surely angering some of his customers. Instead, many thanked him.

The man who apparently turned in Mr. Grachev was a passer-by he refers to as a “grandpa” who, he said, twice warned his employees in late March that they were violating the law. Mr. Grachev, 35, said he believed the man was convinced he was doing his civic duty by reporting the store to the police, and most likely did not have access to information beyond state propaganda.

Grachev's customers collected cash for his fine.

Mr. Grachev is now pondering how to replace his “no to war” sign. He is considering: “There was a sign here for which a 100,000 ruble fine was imposed.”

A brave man who knows his customers.

• • •

Because Erudite Partner meets and teaches college students in San Francisco in her job, I wondered whether she had encountered the relative disinterest in the Ukraine war among the young that polling reports. She says "no way." Perhaps they might find President Volodymyr Zelenskyy an attractive leader. The guy is making friends among people who had never given Ukraine a thought.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

A very contemporary dialogue with a blast from the past

At the end of February, finding myself in the unaccustomed position of watching my government increasingly implicated in what seemed a necessary and just war for the self-determination of the Ukrainian people, I went searching for a little book I hadn't thought about in decades.

My introduction to cultural critic Dwight Macdonald's 1958 paperback volume of essays, Memoirs of a Revolutionist, might give ammunition to our contemporary rightwing nut job book banners. In high school I had a student job delivering the daily New York Times to the 15 or so brainy, or perhaps pretentious, students and teachers who subscribed. Next to the office where I picked up the papers, there was a book rack containing an odd assortment of random paperbacks for sale, mostly for under $2. When I was handed my monthly $10, I would splurge on something from the rack. (Yes, I was a socially inept nerd.) And that's where, in my conservative high school, I ran across Macdonald's essays, probably in 1963.

I didn't understand a great deal of what Macdonald was writing about. I knew absolutely nothing of the 1930s intellectual leftist circles from which he had emerged and with whom he was still arguing. But one aspect of the book was revelatory: Macdonald included piece after piece demanding that those of us privileged to live in the United States recognize the conduct of the Allies fighting Nazis in Europe had not been blameless. Long before Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five (1969) brought home the terror of the firebombing of German cities, Macdonald wanted us to know what "we" had done. He didn't diminish the Holocaust or the crimes of Hitler's aggressive war -- in fact he was way ahead of many "responsible" authorities in foreseeing the murder of European Jews -- but he wasn't going to let anyone bask in victorious innocence about the war.  

We lived in fear of the Bomb in those days. The Cuban missile crisis had been the previous fall. The U.S. war in Vietnam was just coming on the radar of ordinary citizens. In Macdonald, here was someone trying to bring a moral lens to it all.

Much of the book is cultural criticism and I really didn't have the background to understand that. But this ferocious interrogator of his own country's war crimes concluded the political section with an essay from 1952, which I was drawn to when Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February pitched me into an unexpected political place. Macdonald explains his early 1950s choices in the snippets quoted here; material in italics is my dialogue with his essay.

"I debated Norman Mailer at Mt. Holyoke College; my position was summed up: 'I Choose the West.'"
I choose a West that supports a Ukrainian state and people which those Ukrainian people choose.
"I choose the West— the U.S. and its allies— and reject the East — the Soviet Union and its ally, China, and its colonial pro­vinces, the nations of Eastern Europe. By 'choosing' I mean that I support the political, economic, and military struggle of the West against the East. I support it critically... but in general I do choose, I do support Western policies."
All war is evil. Human freedom is good, although routinely abused. I choose freedom wherever people strive toward it.
"During the last war, I did not choose, at first because I was a revolutionary socialist of Trotskyist coloration, later because I was becoming, especially after the atom bomb, a pacifist. ..."
If curious about the Trotskyism, I recommend the original book. This aspect of Macdonald is a piercing vignette from a long-gone intellectual era. Atomic bomb pacifism of a secular character was quite common after the horrors of  WWII.
"I choose the West because I see the present conflict not as another struggle between basically similar imperialisms as was World War I but as a fight to the death between radically different cultures. ..."
Our terrified, imperial War on Terror -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib and our complicity in Yemen and so many other places -- calls the moral value of our culture into question. This country was born in and thrives on racial and sexual domination. Still ...
"In choosing the West, I must admit that already the effects on our own society of the anti-Communist struggle are bad: Senator McCarthy and his imitators are using lies to create hysteria and moral confusion in the best Nazi-Communist pattern... In short, we are becoming to some extent like the totalitarian enemy we are fighting."
Still, more profits for the tech-military-industrial barons. Today's United States exiles its losers to tents on our sidewalks while anesthetizing its winners with mindless consumption of our irreplaceable planet. And a large minority of us were persuaded that it meant "freedom" to put a criminally unserious person in a position to use the Bomb.
"But (1) being on the road is not the same thing as being there already (though one might think it was from certain Marxist and pacifist statements), and (2) this malign trend can be to some extent resisted."
After the fact, we sometimes apologize and even aspire to make amends. We have sometimes put some of our mass murderers on trial. Citizens of Minnesota did convict Derek Chauvin. Not a high bar, but there it is ...
"... Ours is still a living, developing society, open to change and growth, at least compared to its opposite number ..."
Well, I hope so. And we do produce the likes of the Rev. William Barber, Stacey Abrams, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, climate activist Bill McKibben, Congresscritters Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna -- leaders who are neither entirely inside' nor entirely outside, the realm of power and who challenge us to find ways to make this colossus better. Is it enough? No. But the horrors of the invasion of Ukraine remind me, I choose the permanent struggle which is life and hope. 

To my surprise and delight, I found the entire text of Macdonald's little book of essays available for free download under the title Responsibility of the Peoples [pdf]. There's much more there, including my first introduction to the work of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. I'll be coming back Macdonald on the blog from time to time.

Friday, April 08, 2022

Confused about all this talk of war crimes by Russia in Ukraine?

Erudite Partner delivered a master class in the history of international law in war and peace in this interview. She sure knows her stuff. Worth a listen.

Firday cat blogging

You know that common late-pandemic observation, "I haven't been among this many people for such a long time!" That's how Janeway reacted to our having several friends visiting to chat and chew one afternoon. She found a quiet hiding place and waited the disruption out. I found her -- and let her be.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Guns in the home don't make us safer

To many Californians, that's a pretty intuitive notion.  Now there's an exhaustive study using a solid, large data set that supports that conclusion.

California adults who live with a gun owner face twice the risk of death by homicide
Between October 2004 and the end of 2016, adults in the state who didn’t own a gun but took up residence with someone who did were much more likely to die a violent death than people in households without a handgun, researchers from Stanford University found. 
Those who lived with a handgun owner were almost twice as likely to die by homicide as their neighbors without guns, the researchers found. More specifically, adults who lived with the owner of a handgun were almost three times more likely to be killed with a firearm than Californians in households where no handguns were present.
... Among the 866 homicide victims who died in their homes during the period studied, cohabitants of handgun owners were seven times more likely than adults from gun-free homes to have been killed by someone who ostensibly loved them. Rendered into the statistics of public health, the findings suggest that for every 100,000 unarmed adults whose cohabitant acquired a handgun, 4.03 more were killed by a firearm in the ensuing five years than would have been if their households had remained gun-free.
During the pandemic, lot of people sought protection by buying guns. We all felt plenty of fear, much of it free-floating fantasy. But for some, it meant "time to get a firearm."

The same study found no evidence that having a gun in the house protected against attack by strangers.  

Resident women and teenagers, however, were at increased risk of violence in the presence of a gun.

There's got to be a better way to feel safer without genuine dangers.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

On getting with the program

A Florida teacher wishes to be in compliance with the new law restricting what can be taught -- or mentioned -- in the classroom.

This was floating around on Twitter. It seemed worth sharing.
• • •
But let's get serious here for a minute. Republicans are bound and determined to inflame a sex panic so as to run on it in the midterms. 
In the charged debate over what and how children should learn about sexual orientation and gender identity, some mainstream Republicans are tagging those who defend such lessons as “groomers,” claiming that proponents of such teaching want children primed for sexual abuse. The argument draws on previous tactics adopted by the right to oppose the erosion of traditional gender roles at moments of societal transition, experts say. They point out that, while groomer rhetoric seems designed to appeal to fringe partisans, it is part of a conservative effort to foster a moral panic that will help limit how and what educators teach — by restricting history lessons, banning books, and curbing discussions of systemic racism and LGBTQ issues. Hannah Natanson and Moriah Balingit

We've been here before.When uppity (or hungry) women insisted on going to work outside the home in the 1980s and 90s, leaving their kids in day care, the usual suspects ginned up a day care sex panic, charging a few unfortunate operators with Satanic ritual abuse. Ambitious DAs descended on schools and ginned up prosecutions. But there was nothing there but manipulated parental hyper-anxiety. It was all nonsense -- nearly all the accused were eventually set free when temperatures cooled.

This time, the targets of fear are LGBTQ people. And anyone who might teach truthful history about race. The antidote to irrational fears is 1) education and 2) to get over it.

Monday, April 04, 2022

New maps

It's redistricting season in the city. The boundaries of San Francisco's eleven supervisor districts have to be redrawn to more closely equalize the population among them every ten years based on the laterst census. People move and crowd into new areas. Some new housing gets built -- there are changes.

Mission Local is providing deep coverage of the redistricting process. This link let's you play with various proposed maps and look at the racial and economic characteristics of each map.

Click to enlarge.
This map is a screen grab from a subsequent article by reporter Will Jarrett about how the redistricting task force has tentatively settled on a possible solution. The red lines are the current districts. The green lines are the new ones. The public comment phase of the process seems to have focused on keeping the Tenderloin within District Six where it has been for the last 20 years. That District has added a lot more people, so much of the jigsaw puzzle is inevitably rooted in how to chip away at its margins.

It's not over, but the task force is coming closer to deciding. It is supposed to finish its work by April 15.

• • •

As anyone who has been following Walking San Francisco would imagine, I feel intimately acquainted with all these lines, since I organized the project of walking both sides of all the city's streets using the district and precinct maps. Some random thoughts:

• Several of the earlier proposed districts would have carved up the Haight-Panhandle area. I have an aging hippie friend who might have found himself in District 2 with the Marina and the Presidio. He'll be glad the greater Haight area still seems to be in District 5 along with the Western Addition, and Hayes Valley.

• However the excision of all the Inner Sunset from District 5 into District 7 strikes me as a fairly major change. That's a very progressive neighborhood being added to the vast, semi-suburban reaches of District 7.

• Mostly, I'm struck by how few big changes have happened over the last 20 years. I had a minor consulting role in drawing the first iteration of these district lines in 2000. After a period without districts, these eleven areas were hammered out then, more or less from scratch. There's been far less population change than might have been expected. I guess we really don't build new housing, though at ground level where I've been walking, it sometimes feels as if there is construction everywhere.

• I wonder if the electoral divisions within the new districts will be anything like the old precincts. They shouldn't be. With so many of us voting by mail or drop box these days, the Department of Elections should not need to put up and staff so many polling places. There are complications, but that's the part of the process where I'd expect the largest changes.

UPDATE, April 5: And then, a day later, the Task Force changed up and voted again for a map the eviscerates District 5. All the Mayor's appointees were in on the switch. It isn't over til its over.