Sunday, April 30, 2023

A juxtaposition to ponder

Click to enlarge.

Not quite sure where this leads my thoughts. Somewhere far away.

H/t Adam Tooze.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

REI: doing the right thing

It was heartening to encounter this affirming sign in the co-op this morning. I wonder if REI is so demonstrably welcoming to all people in all locations? Corporate press releases say the answer is "yes".

Progressive folks are probably well represented in its market; REI doesn't sell guns or ammunition and urges other outdoor equipment sellers to engage with a national discussion of gun safety. This stance probably helps define who chooses to shop with REI.

It was especially good to encounter this sign right after reading Brynn Tannehill's terrifying description of how Republicans in red states are working to outlaw what they call "transgenderism" -- which amounts to outlawing transgender people. No kidding.

There is more than a hint of the attitude that “we have tolerated these people for too long, even as they destroy our nation from within and pollute our culture.” There’s incitement to violence to protect women and children, even as party-affiliated militias (whether the Sturmabteilung or the Proud Boys) engage in campaigns of intimidation. Such sentiments and statements would not seem out of place uttered by Goebbels in 1933 or Tucker Carlson today.

There’s a pattern to how states target disfavored minorities with the intention of driving them out, or underground. It starts with rhetoric demonizing a minority, designed to start a moral panic, and with laws meant to “encourage” the targeted minority to leave by making life as dangerous, unpleasant, and untenable for them as possible.

Over time, as the situation deteriorates, many choose to leave no matter what the personal cost because anything is better than this: whether it was Blacks fleeing the American South during the Great Migration or the 60 percent of German Jews who left the country between 1933 and 1939. Modern-day Republicans are not even hiding the fact that the goal of their anti-LGBTQ policies is to encourage them to flee. When a poll found that over half of Florida’s LGBTQ parents were considering leaving Florida because of Governor Ron DeSantis’s policies, his press secretary, Christina Pushaw, responded on Twitter with an emoji of a hand waving “Bye!”

The MAGA mob is serious about remaking the country in their demented image. In their warped vision, some people will have to go. Tannehill fears the GOP will try to categorize non-conforming gender identities as mental illnesses, requiring enforced "rehabilitation."

Most companies aren't going to have the guts to stand up for a minority. They are warily watching Ron DeSantis take on Disney. (Probably not the smartest target for MAGA; I'd still bet on the Mouse.) Even relatively small companies that do show courage are important to building the broadest coalition possible that stands for freedom and dignity for all. Thanks REI.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Friday cat blogging

We're home and we are all getting back to our old habits.

Janeway cast an attentive stare at this old familiar human lap.
Then she settled in ...

Thursday, April 27, 2023

On the road again ...

 ...on our way back home.

Posting from aboard this ferry which is the second leg of four today. We've taken a taxi to the landing, about 40 minutes from up-island. 

The boat ride to Woods Hole is another forty-fie minutes.

After that we'll take a two hour bus ride to Logan Airport, Boston.

And then the usual cross country flight home to SFO. The journey makes a long day.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

It's Election Day!

Here in Chilmark, Mass. the town voters are choosing a new member of the Select Board (roughly the Town Council in New Englandese). I suspect it may be a thankless position.

The two candidates have each put up a goodly quantity of lawn signs along the roads.
Folks who work in elections know better than to try to predict outcomes based on the quantity of signs ... but there sure aren't a lot of ways to get your name out to the voters around here. I did meet this guy at the town dump one day, looking to meet voters. Couldn't help him. So it goes.

Have to say, this might be one of the more unusual election announcements I've ever seen. Perhaps the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires this typeface?

Update: Ms. Larsen won, roughly 2 to 1. May her tenure be peaceful and positive.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

My experience of Holocaust education

Dara Horn's critique Is Holocaust Education Making Anti-Semitism Worse? got me wondering: how did I learn about the Holocaust? (Previous summary post here.)

And I realized that I actually had encountered Holocaust education in high school in 1963. This, among many other influences, probably helped set my trajectory for the rest of my life. The powers-that-be brought in a woman who was billed, accurately, as "a local author" to speak to a small group -- probably "the current events club." (We had such a thing. Odd to remember.)

This was Gerda Weissmann (later Klein) who lived in Buffalo. Her memoir, All But My Life, is the saga of how she landed in upstate New York.

Gerda Weissmann (later Klein) was born in Bielsko, Poland, on May 8, 1924. Growing up into a middle-class Jewish family, Gerda Weissmann’s life was shattered when she was 15 years old in September 1939. German forces invaded Poland and within a month her brother Artur was taken away by the Nazis never to return. Gerda and her parents were forced into the basement of their family home as it was stripped. Then along with other Jewish residents, they were imprisoned in the Bielsko Ghetto, and some were sent into slave labor. Gerda was eventually separated from her parents, who later died in the concentration camps, while she was sent into a series of slave labor camps at Marzdorf, Landshut and Gruenberg. After barely surviving these, Gerda was forced onto a Death March ending in Volary, Czechoslovakia on May 7, 1945. (Jewish Buffalo History Center)
Ms. Klein had married Kurt Klein, an American soldier who helped liberate this contingent of slave laborers. She committed her life to educating young people about her experience of Nazi genocide and much more, writing nine books "on themes of courage, friendship and love."

Ms. Klein's talk gifted me with a burning desire to know more about the inhumanity we are capable of visiting on each other. I borrowed her book from the local library -- and followed up with additional Holocaust reading, as well as another genre much available at the time, accounts of Stalin's gulag and even the Holodomor in Ukraine. (Note, somehow neither the story of European settlers' genocidal war on native Americans nor the story of American slavery were so available in the public library.) I was a curious young person.

Holocaust education had a profound effect on me. But I need to grant that Horn's article points to conditions that made Holocaust education viable for me. I had great advantages. Jewish people were part of my world.

• Unlike so many US kids now subjected to these course units, there were Jews in my daily life. There had been Jewish kids in my classes since 5th grade. There were a significant number of Jewish kids in my private high school.
• My mother had close Jewish women friends, people she'd worked with on community projects including during World War II.
• The adults I was exposed to were Holocaust-aware, both Jews and also my Protestant co-religionists.
However I should not leave the impression that this environment was devoid of anti-Semitism. In fact, it reeked of socially accepted prejudice against Jews.
• By the time I escaped high school, I had come to recognize that the institution was probably operating with a Jewish quota: there were Jewish students ... but not too many.
• While I was in high school, the large Reform synagogue nearby suffered anti-Semitic vandalism. The attack felt incomprehensible. Classmates felt threatened. I had been taken to tour that building along with classmates, a tour very like the one we sponsored of our Episcopal church. The two didn't feel that different: both were buildings used for slightly exotic purposes that advertised the comfortable class status of their adherents.
• And that goes to the nub of how I encountered Jews in that place and time: most all the families in that school, Christian and Jewish (there was nobody more exotic that I knew of), were performing culturally what was expected from the post-WWII professional American upper middle class. For example, I don't remember anyone being raised by a single mom. The Jewish kids seemed not to want to be seen as "too Jewish." I didn't meet Jews who willingly advertised difference from Christian Americans until I got out of there. The conformist Fifties persisted well into the Sixties in Buffalo.
If overcoming Christian solipsism and anti-Semitism were that challenging for me -- with all those corrective influences -- no wonder Holocaust education is as problematic as Dara Horn portrays it.

Gerda Klein's All But My Life remains available. I'm going to re-read it and may post an update.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Holocaust history as modern American morality play

Dara Horn's rambling essay in the current Atlantic magazine, Is Holocaust Education Making Anti-Semitism Worse? seems to be getting some plaudits and some pushback. That's not surprising; a lot of very earnest people teach in this field, doing their best. And Jewish people and Jewish institutions want and need some force that runs against our current eruptions of Jew-hatred. We all do; very few of us want the Nazis among us to run about unchecked.

When we don't know what else to do, a humane, classically liberal, society defaults to attempting education ... but does it work?

I want to summarize some of Horn's points in this post and follow up with another post about what I can remember about how I learned about the Holocaust many moons ago. That was long before there was such a thing as a formal curricular field, and yet the vaguely Christian institution where I went to high school did offer a chance to learn something about the then-recent Nazi genocide.

Horn introduces her article with a clear assertion:

... The bedrock assumption that has endured for nearly half a century is that learning about the Holocaust inoculates people against anti-Semitism. But it doesn’t. ... I have come to the disturbing conclusion that Holocaust education is incapable of addressing contemporary anti-Semitism.
The article is a kind of travelogue through this apparently burgeoning elementary and high school academic field. Her picture of the endeavor brought me up short:
... Benjamin Vollmer ... has spent years building his school’s Holocaust-education program. He teaches eighth-grade English in Venus, Texas, a rural community with 5,700 residents; his school is majority Hispanic, and most students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. ...Vollmer is not Jewish—and, as is common for Holocaust educators, he has never had a Jewish student. (Jews are 2.4 percent of the U.S. adult population, according to a 2020 Pew survey.)
My surprise shows my Christian obliviousness. I live now and always have lived in places where Jews are visible citizens. Before recent hyper-affluent times, San Francisco meant frontier opportunity and welcome to misfits who don't quite fit in with mid-America. In 2011, six percent of San Francisco's population was Jewish, likely mostly imports like the rest of us weirdos. In my line of work, I've long noted that well-curated political voter lists attempt to identify who is Jewish; somehow they know Erudite Partner is Jewish, despite her Scots last name. The world notices where the Jews are. And, mostly under wraps, there's plenty of Jew-hating in oh-so-sophisticated Northern California.

San Francisco anti-Semitic graffiti spotted in 2015
Horn explores what might be buoying Holocaust education in mid-American venues where there are no Jews. The answer she gets from teachers is obvious, if you think for a minute: the victims of the Shoah are conveniently dead on another continent some distance in the past.
Why not focus on something more relevant to his students, I asked Vollmer, like the history of immigration or the civil-rights movement? I hadn’t yet appreciated that the absence of Jews was precisely the appeal.“Some topics have been so politicized that it’s too hard to teach them,” he told me. “Making it more historical takes away some of the barriers to talking about it.”
Where there are no living, breathing Jews, a focus on the Holocaust serves as a safe morality play.
The point was to teach morality in a secular society. “Everyone in education, regardless of ethnicity, could agree that Nazism was evil and that the Jews were innocent victims,” [education historian Thomas D.] Fallace wrote, explaining the topic’s appeal. “Thus, teachers used the Holocaust to activate the moral reasoning of their students”—to teach them to be good people.
Horn concludes:
... One problem with using the Holocaust as a morality play is exactly its appeal: It flatters everyone. We can all congratulate ourselves for not committing mass murder. This approach excuses current anti-Semitism by defining anti-Semitism as genocide in the past.
Horn makes a solid case that if we want a society that rejects Jew-hating, we have to start by helping students with some prior questions before we get to anti-Semitism: Who are the Jews? Where did Jews come from? What cultures have Jews lived in? What cultures have Jews created? Only after exploring those questions can educators usefully approach why are Jews objects of hatred? and why have both Christian and secular modern cultures generated anti-Semitism?

She quotes J. E. Wolfson of the Texas Holocaust, Genocide, and Antisemitism Advisory Commission:
... [he] told the teachers that it was important that “anti-Semitism should not be your students’ first introduction to Jews and Judaism.” ... “If you’re teaching about anti-Semitism before you teach about the content of Jewish identity, you’re doing it wrong.”
That seems right to me -- and a lot more politically and culturally demanding than teaching the Holocaust as a distant morality play whose enormity reinforces contemporary innocence.

Horn's essay prompted me to try to recall how I was taught and learned about the Holocaust as a young person of the 1950s and 60s. To be continued ...

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Earth Day 2023 -- doing our bit for sustainability

Somehow I missed noticing the original Earth Day in 1970. Perhaps I was distracted by Richard Nixon's monstrous escalations of our immoral and futile war on Vietnam. Sure, I got it that Rachel Carson was onto something, but my young mind and heart were elsewhere.

I am immensely grateful for the masses who did notice Senator Gaylord Nelson's call to action for the environment. And I'm thrilled Joe Biden has chosen to speak for environmental justice, an essential cause which my friends in the old Center for Third World Organizing helped raise up in the early 1990s.

And so today we face human-induced climate instability and there is much good news to keep front of mind there -- though still so much to do.

Click to enlarge

Slowly at first, and now accelerating, with an assist from the rebates in the Democrats' recent aid legislation, we're moving away from fossil fuels and toward electrifying from clean sources. We still use a lot of energy to run this civilization and will continue to use more, but the sources are changing. Goodbye coal and oil.

Via Robert Wright

Earthlings may have reached a major climate threshold—and, for once, it’s the good kind! A report from the environmental think tank Ember says greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector may have peaked in 2022. Thanks to the growing use of such renewable energy sources as solar and wind, these emissions are leveling off despite increased power generation overall. Solar and wind together accounted for 12 percent of the power generated in the 78 nations studied (which generate 93 percent of the world’s power). That’s up from 10 percent in 2021. If the renewables trend line continues, that can more than counteract growing total power consumption, the Ember report says.
Part of the reason the Erudite Partner and I are in Massachusetts is that we've been arranging to replace the old oil furnace in the family house here. It took 7 weeks to bring it together, but we've signed a contract for a heat pump system to go in next fall, using the rebate.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Franky Carrillo is running for Congress

In 2011, Franky Carrillo won release from prison after 20 years in prison where he had been serving a life sentence for a crime he didn't commit. From ages 16 to 37, the state locked him up.

Los Angeles cops needed someone to charge for a drive-by murder in the suburb of Lynwood. Suspecting Franky, they showed other boys in his friendship set a photo of him until one fingered him for the shooting -- and the "witness" then persuaded the other boys present to go along. Carrillo protested his innocence. It took two trials, but eventually the police got to notch a win and Franky was sent away.

The Northern California Innocence Project took up Carrillo's case. The wheels of justice ground slowly, but ...

The conviction was overturned after the six eyewitnesses all admitted that they did not really see anything and had been influenced to identify Carrillo. In addition, two other men confessed to the shooting and said that Carrillo was not involved.

Carrillo has always been a person who worked to improve himself and to give back to other victims of injustice. After prison, he completed college studies and formed a family. I met him when he appeared in the only TV ad we could afford to run on behalf of the 2012 initiative campaign to end the California death penalty. The guy was a natural and he had a story of legalized miscarriage of justice to tell. Too bad we couldn't afford enough TV to get the message out further. (We lost that round narrowly, but probably separated elite opinion in the state from capital punishment and made room for Governor Newsom's subsequent blanket repudiation of the practice.)

Now Franky aims to win a seat in Congress. CD-27 is one of the few truly swingy seats in the state. He explains that he knows in his bones that ..

there are people who abuse their power and benefit from the system. I fought a rigged system and won my freedom.... Now, I’m running for Congress to reform the rigged systems that leave working Californians behind.

I don't know if Carrillo can defeat the incumbent, Republican Mike Garcia. I don't even know if Carrillo can emerge from the primary as the Democratic standard bearer. A lot of Dems are going to want to challenge Garcia.

But I sure love the idea of someone who knows the injustices in the system so viscerally sitting in the House of Representatives in DC.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Friday cat blogging

Janeway found a sunbeam and took full advantage.
Here she poses for Allen. Will she remember us when we get home?

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Ah, yes -- the wonderful world of foundation funding

In a new article from Tom Dispatch, Erudite Partner marks tax season with a graceful, and highly readable, explainer about how our annual duels with the IRS feed our misconceptions about how positive change comes about.

A Deal With the Devil: Non-Profit Status and Political Action 

 ... For many ... of us, it’s time to pat ourselves on the back for the charitable donations we made to tax-deductible organizations in 2022. Time to pat ourselves on the back for being clever and generous enough to “do well by doing good,” right? Time, perhaps, to wonder why, even when we give to organizations seeking radical change, the IRS still rewards us with a tax deduction. Do the feds really support organized opposition to, for example, the military-industrial complex? Or is there more to the story of what my students sometimes refer to as the “nonprofit-industrial complex”?
... am I suggesting that we shouldn’t give money to non-profits, because we often don’t really benefit from the tax deduction? Absolutely not. I’m saying that when we donate, we shouldn’t do it because of the tax deduction. We should do it, if we can, because it supports activities crucial to our own and the long-term survival and even flourishing of so many other people. ...

Read all about it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

We need a "can do" frame of mind

When I first read about the United Nations Millennium Goals (MDG), I was mighty skeptical. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger everywhere in the world by 2015? -- not likely.

But in fact, a vast international effort, about which most of us here in the rich world have been oblivious, has accomplished an enormous amount, improving the lives of people all over the planet, even in Africa.

Click to enlarge.

That's one heck of a trajectory and a lot of people are living better than their parents even imagined.

Matt Yglesias explores the paradox of rising global living standards in the context of climate change.

One thing that’s important to understand about this is that the huge drop in global extreme poverty is a leading cause of climate change.

What first started me on my current climate trajectory was talking to book publishing people about “One Billion Americans.” I got pushback from some folks who said it would be bad to have more immigration to the United States because it would raise emissions. I said it’s true emissions would go up, but emissions would be rising because living standards would be rising, and from an adaptation perspective, it’s clearly better to have more people in the U.S. (much of which is relatively cold) than fewer.

But then it turned out lots of people believe we are facing an absolute decline in global living standards such that keeping people poor as an anti-emissions strategy has net benefits. That’s just not true.

Having been overly skeptical about the MDGs, I try to appreciate that, just maybe, we can hope that hard work and human ingenuity will enable us to come to terms with the mess we've made of the planet's carbon balance. 

Erudite Partner and I are temporarily at a family residence in Massachusetts, working toward installation of a hump pump system to replace an oil burner -- that is, the house is going all electric. That seems to be a thing that relatively affluent individuals can do. The Biden administration's climate legislation provides a big rebate that makes it less costly.

On climate, every little bit helps.

An exposé

Make My Money Matter campaign in the UK

Is the therapist onto them? Are we? 

H/t Bill McKibben.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Tax day

Substacker and sometime curmudgeon Matthew Yglesias was playing with Microsoft's Bing AI chatbot and emerged with this. Suits the day:

Tax policy is a complex art
That shapes the nation's wealth and heart
It sets the rules for who must pay
And how much they must give away

Tax policy can spur or slow
The economic growth and flow
It can reward or penalize
The choices that we make and prize

Tax policy reflects our goals
Our values and our social roles
It can promote equality
Or foster opportunity

Tax policy is not a game
It has a power and a name
It shapes our lives in many ways
And we should care how it is made. 

The bot strikes me as a bit idealistic but not entirely offbase about the implications of our taxes. And extremely conventional.

Meanwhile, if you are from California, this Mission Local headline reveals the state of play on this day:

More here. We've had weather.

Monday, April 17, 2023

How others see us

Chatting with Vineyard friends the other night, we found ourselves wondering, "what ever happened to Kamala Harris?" (Well, some did; I've long questioned her political strengths.) Vice Presidents usually fade into the background; does anyone really remember what Joe Biden did during the Obama years? But, somehow, we ask more from Ms. Harris. We want her to establish herself as a figure in her own right and criticize her when she's a just another VP.

Today Heather Cox Richardson pointed to a notable speech Harris had delivered to a Los Angeles March for Reproductive Rights.

Let us center on where we are. ... A United States Supreme Court, the highest court in our land, that took a constitutional right that had been recognized from the people of America. 

We have seen attacks on voting rights; attacks on fundamental rights to love and marry the people that you love — (applause); attacks on the ability of people to be themselves and be proud of who they are.  (Applause.) 

... You know, I’ve been traveling around the world as your Vice President.  (Applause.)  And — thank you.  And here’s the thing, though.  Here’s the thing.  When we, as Americans, walk in those rooms around the world, we have traditionally walked in those rooms, shoulders back, chin up, having some authority to talk about the importance of rule of law, human rights.  

But here’s the thing we all know about what it means to be a role model: People watch what you do to see if it matches what you say.  (Applause.)

I'm sure she does find that we're being watched, usually anxiously, wherever she goes. When the people of the world pay attention to us, I imagine they feel whipsawed about by our political gyrations, our gun culture, our democratic backsliding, our wealth, our innovations, our pop culture -- as are most of us right here at home.

Via Economist Intelligence
The United States certainly doesn't command automatic leadership on questions of world war and peace -- as well we shouldn't given that we spent a couple of decades tearing up the Middle East and Central Asia for no discernible purpose.  

But Harris' pitch to a progressive audience does seem significant here. She's reaching for a jujitsu move that was vital to the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and early 60s: The Black internationalist tradition (think W.E.B. DuBois among others) equipped civil rights leaders to confront the dominant Cold Warrior anti-communists in power with the charge of hypocrisy. If their system was so superior, how come the South was allowed to exist as a neo-Confederate white supremacist autocracy? 

Harris is right to use her experience on the diplomoatic trips she's been shuffled off on to raise, once more, the contrast between what the U.S.  preaches and who the world can see that we are. 

There's a deep tradition there, and if we're to claw our way to an equitable democracy, we can draw on it.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Media consumption diet--surfing the Substack wave

A few years ago, I got really mad at the New York Times. I do subscribe, more or less happily. There's not really any daily word-based journalism to equal it, though there are other worthy outlets, especially the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.  But suddenly, in what felt like a fit of algorithmically-endorsed design "improvement," the NYT's online landing page stopped showing the bylines of its writers. You had to click on any given story to find out who wrote it. (You still have to click; the design flaw persists.)

This was in complete contradiction to how I decide where to dip into the onrushing flood of daily journalism. I have long preferred to read by author. I know whose journalism has enhanced my understanding of matters I'm interested in. I choose to put my limited attention on their pieces. And also to avoid authors who have lost my trust -- on the NYT, looking at you Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker ...

So when Substack came along, I'd found a medium that nearly perfectly matched how I want to consume information and other content. Here were individual authors writing relatively long form who I had already identified and chosen to trust. And I admit, I've turned into a Substack glutton. I follow some 30 writers -- some paid, though many only for their loss-leader free content. The medium accords with how I want to float through information world.

Here are a few I recommend -- including some less frequented ones:

Jessica Valenti, Abortion Every Day

Peter Beinart on Israel/Palestine

Don Moynihan, student of public policy, asks Can We Still Govern?

Diana Butler Bass on faith, spirituality, and history at The Cottage

John Ganz at Unpopular Front on history for our times

Claudia Sahm, a high-end economist for the people, at Stay-At-Home Macro (SAHM)

Robert Wright at Nonzero Newsletter on averting (many) apocalypses

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on what's on the great man's mind

... and so many more.

In the last few days, Substack has added Notes which seems a lot like Twitter without the bots and Elon Musk. For the moment it appears mostly to be a home for the same writers I encounter via Substack  -- but can it stay congenial? It's hard to imagine a mass of people attracted to Substack can achieve internet-level scale.

Mike Masnick at The Verge interviewed Substack's CEO Chris Best about his platform -- but in particular how the company planned to deal with various kinds of bad actors who will likely find their way to Notes. Best did not convince me or the interviewer that Substack has a clue about solving social media's downsides ... unhappily.

For the moment, Substack has reminded me that the World Wide Web was once a magical arena where I could search out everything I was ever curious about -- before Facebook and Google and so on polluted it. Let's hope Substack endures as a useful platform for awhile.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Local politics

Unsurprisingly, this Massachusetts island has a healthy quantity of very local politics. This is the land of governance by town meeting, after all.

I was happy to see in the Martha's Vineyard Times that the two of the island's six towns where off-premises alcohol can be sold will be banning nips, like the one pictured above.

At their respective annual town meetings Tuesday evening, voters in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown approved a new bylaw prohibiting the sale of nips — single-use containers of alcohol under 100mL. 

Oak Bluffs and Edgartown are the only towns on the Vineyard that sell the miniature bottles. The ban, which will go into effect in the beginning of May next year, was first recommended to town select boards in an effort to mitigate pervasive littering. 

Supporters of the ban have also emphasized the importance of cutting down, and eventually doing away with, single-use containers and plastics. 

Despite the ban having been on the town’s radar for nearly a decade, the newest iteration of the conversation follows Nantucket’s successful enactment of a similar restriction.

Ah yes -- a competition with the neighboring island proved motivating. 

There's something of a class aspect to the ban. The little bottles tend to be favored by younger and poorer drinkers. But the liquor lobby discovered that majority rule still works here. And the yen to protect the lovely environment runs deep and wide among all residents.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Friday cat blogging

Long time readers here may remember that in late fall 2019, our old, tired and beloved cat, Morty, survived a cross-country drive with us for a sojourn here in the country on Martha's Vineyard island. Unhappily, Morty slipped out of a slightly open door unnoticed and simply disappeared. We assumed he'd gotten lost in this foreign-to-him environment and could not have survived, despite our desperate efforts to find him. We mourned.

And then one night a magical friend came running in clutching a dirty gray ball of fur -- "is this Morty?" Indeed it was, and more or less alive. For the better part of a month, we nursed him. We re-hydrated him subcuataneously several times a day. Erudite Partner squirted ground up medicine and baby food into his mouth. He slept beside us. 

By the time in December we were ready to drive back across the country, he had perked up, though he still needed some care. So off we all went. He did well riding on the non-driver's lap. When we got home to San Francisco, he settled in. But by early in the 2020 pandemic lockdown, it was clear he was leaving this world. He died in late April.

Erudite Partner's step sister memorialized Morty here in this Vineyard house with this needlepoint pillow. He liked tulips -- especially to snack on. He was a special cat.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

We should not have to participate in a national suicide pact

Click to enlarge

Once upon time, not so long ago, mass shootings were relatively rare. Sure, the United States had a gun culture, but the carnage was much less. The red line that in the chart marks the year when a Republican-controlled Congress allowed the ban on civilian ownership of assault (military) weapons to expire. Whoopee -- now any nut with a bug in the ass can inflict carnage on a crowd. 

If the Supreme Court won't allow the vast majority of Americans to rein in the gun plague, we have to replace the Supreme Court. Their current reading of the Second Amendment is a nonsensical invitation to gun violence. Perhaps they should be required to wash the remains of shooting victims for burial in order to get paid?

The same goes for Republican gun fetishists. They are getting what they want.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've lost track of the source for this excellent graphic. Looks like the Financial Times by way of someone I read. ?

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

We vote our moral injuries

A twitter comment from a Helen Kennedy has me reflecting:

I think Dobbs is this generation’s Iraq war. The first time a right is taken away is searing.
There's something in that. Mostly we just live our lives. But external events can jar us into extremely enduring political alignments. 

For my generation, early Boomers, that event was the immoral, futile war in Vietnam -- and the military draft. War bad; pols who constrain war, good. (The Democrats were weak reeds here until years later.)

There may be citizens for whom the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Russian empire had similar valence. But is what is experienced as a distant triumph of similar enduring weight to what is felt as moral injury? That's an honest question. I don't know.

For sure, G W Bush's Iraq war scarred a generation. "Bush Lied; Millions Died!" went the chant. Only partially accurate, but heartfelt.

And now, Dobbs/abortion prohibition on top of Donald Trump, MAGA racial and gender hatefulness, climate denial, and guns galore ... these are generational moral injuries to many young people coming up these days. 

Given a means to say "no", they will throng to it. The Washington Post provides a granular account of how young people were organized to vote in the recent judge election, giving WisDems an astonishing winning margin for their candidate.

“The incredibly personal threat posed by the Wisconsin abortion ban…meant that in an election that normally has almost no resonance among young people, in this election, campus wards were packed,” [Ben] Wikler [Democratic Party chair ] said. But more broadly, the issues of democracy and personal freedoms also brought students out in big numbers.

“This generation of young people are primed to participate in the electoral process,” Mike Tate, [lead organizer,] said. “They simply need to know how to do it.”

Democrats flooded state campuses with local student organizers who tabled daily -- only moving inside when temperatures dropped below 35. They made sure students planned for the election, knowing when, where, and how to cast their ballots. Many new voters need information and support with these simple mechanics; there's a fear to be overcome of somehow doing it wrong or embarrassing themselves. 

All this organizing was cheap -- at least in election terms. The two candidates together spent $37 million on campaigns -- mostly TV ads. The Democratic campus organizing cost just $1 million.

Would that the entire Democratic Party would join WisDems in recognizing that diligent organizing, especially among young citizens, is where our future can be ensured.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Hat tip to a battered combatant; time for new champions

Gavin Newsom has never been one of my favorite politicians. I've mostly thought that he's just a pretty face.

That old San Francisco crook Willie Brown implanted Gavin on the city; he pranced, preened and touted flimsy progressive bonafides while afflicting the poor and homeless. His mayoral tenure included plenty of flash, but no sign of judgement. After all, in those days he was married to the woman who is now Trump Jr.'s main squeeze, Kimberly Guilfoyle; no kidding ...

When he decamped to Sacramento to spend eight years as Jerry Brown's lieutenant governor/understudy, we didn't have to hear so much from him; that's not a high profile office.  I am willing to admit he hasn't been a disastrous governor once he moved up the ladder. Maybe he learned something from watching Jerry.

But now that he's completed that ascent, he's running around the country tweaking the MAGAs on their Confederate turf, once more the flashy huckster we first knew him as. As a San Franciscan, it's kind of fun to watch -- and hard to take seriously.

But I think pundit Mike Madrid may be on to something in a Los Angeles Times commentary. Newsom is making himself useful in the struggle to preserve progressive democracy.
Newsom’s new tactical offensive — most recently an appearance last week in Sarasota, Fla., to highlight conservative efforts to limit education — marks the end of the “When they go low, we go high” brand of politics popularized by former First Lady Michelle Obama during the early days of the Trump era. Democrats believed that the vulgarization of the public square was beneath them, and that mindset was a losing tactic. The political reality is that the high-minded ideal doesn’t work if you allow your opposition to choose the battleground.
... Newsom’s unapologetic embrace of such broadly popular social issues as same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana and the nation’s most progressive positions on gun control and reproductive rights gives the country’s largest blue state governor the bully pulpit to drive Democrats in a new direction.
While Biden is wisely focused on inflation and the war in Ukraine, Newsom has picked up the issues that animate the necessary coalitions to win elections. ...
... For decades, Republicans have looked to Democratic cultural excess for success at the ballot box, but considerable demographic, social and technological change has transformed the traditional terms of political engagement. Simply put, American culture today is not what it was 30 years ago.
I doubt very much that  Gavin Newsom is going to lead Democrats to a promised land of renewed government that works for justice, equity, and kindness. He's been around too long and his brand is too complex.

That fight will be led by a new generation of champions. Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman catalogue some of them; you can find more in Jessica Valenti's invaluable Abortion, Every Day. Obviously this includes the two Tennessee Justins who didn't know they were supposed to shut up around their white elders; parents and other adult supporters of trans kids like Nebraska State Senator Megan Hunt and Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow; brave advocates for reproductive rights such as Idaho Rep. Lauren Necochea. 

The road ahead is hard for these emerging leaders, but let's honor their fight for all our lives in a terrible moment of profound promise.

Monday, April 10, 2023

A new fire, a new season

I am reminded by Katie Sherrod on Facebook:
... we liturgical Christians now embark on the Great Fifty Days. Easter is not just one day, it is a whole season, from Easter Eve through the Day of Pentecost, May 28.
There is no fasting during the Paschal season, and alleluias are said or said repeatedly, ...
We are invited in this season to bask in hope, to acknowledge that God's love is not something we have to suffer to earn, but that we are enfolded in that love daily from birth to death, and beyond.
God loves you. Yes, you. Happy Easter.
The three-day annual re-enactment of life overcoming death is exhausting. If there is a cosmic order and not just chaos, the re-enactment embodies it. And this actualization is true to the human experience of life in all its messy reality. While there is life, let's live abundantly.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

New England spring

And a blessed Easter morning ... along the road in Chilmark, Mass.

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Morsels for a quiet Saturday morning

An awful lot of commentators seem to want to chip away at New York County D.A. Alvin Bragg's case for indicting Donald Trump for multiple felonies. That's a game I can't play.

Bragg is a guy with a hell of a pedigree: Harvard College, Harvard Law, corporate practice, State Attorney General's office, assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York, winner of a contested election for his current job. He likely knows something, both of law and of politics.

Seems to me there are obvious reasons -- adjacent to possibly substantive commentary that informs the legal doubters' views -- he's Black and he's fat. Both mean in American society, he's a lesser light, demanding a full place in the sun. Dude undoubtedly knows this.

• • •

A deep article by Jason DeParle  [gift NYT article] describes the living conditions of new immigrants, documented and not, who have landed in urban Tennessee. It is very much worth a read. He dissects the multiple intricacies of a hodgepodge social-welfare system, while profiling a Salvadoran pastor whose church provides a landing place for newcomers:

Luz Canales and her husband, undocumented immigrants from Honduras, were living in a garage with five young children when they first came to church. Her husband fell ill and could not work. Ineligible for food stamps, though they received free school meals, the children arrived at services so hungry that Mr. Acevedo took them home to eat.
“Look, there’s one thing I want you to understand,” Mr. Acevedo said, referring to the limits on immigrant aid. “The fact that I’m not complaining doesn’t mean I don’t have my opinion that it’s unjust.”
Citing scriptural commands to seek justice, he said he was speaking out despite the risks to encourage compassion. “Sometimes we see each other’s struggles but feel indifference — there’s no love,” he said.

DeParle describes Nashville as a "a growing immigration hub." Might the bad behavior of Republican good old boys in the state legislature who have kicked out a couple of young Black members be colored by their terror about a population of new citizens who are already in town? Seems likely. White Tennessee is going to be mighty nasty for awhile.

Friday, April 07, 2023

The day of the Cross


On a monastery atop Mt. Nebo, Jordan, 2006

Outside the nuclear lab, Livermore, CA 2005

A San Francisco doorway, 2018

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Shards from the embattled republic

Links to ponder or perhaps enjoy:

Legal writer and defense lawyer Teri Kanefield

Deep doo-doo is a recognized legal term well known to defense lawyers everywhere.

Margaret Renkl, who lives in the neo-Confederate state of Tennessee:

Twenty-first-century Republicans are always demonstrating a truth that the Roman historian Tacitus understood back in the first century: It is part of human nature to hate someone you have hurt. ...

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

When you’re too lazy, arrogant, entitled, complacent, or cowardly to search for the facts and understand the consequences to others of your actions, then you aren’t “good people.” You can tell yourself otherwise so you can get through the day. You can hide among others like yourself who do the same thing. You can all gather in a place of worship and proclaim yourself God-loving. But, on some level, you know better.

... Republicans need a bogeyman to rally fearful conservatives because they have no platform to address the country’s economic, educational, and social issues. All they have is an enemies list.


Feminist journalist Jill Filipovic:

Every single state that has refused to expand Medicaid so that more moms and babies can get health care is a a “pro-life” state. Every single Republican-dominated legislature passing anti-abortion laws has at least a few Republican members who understand full well that criminalizing abortion is going to mean worse health outcomes for women, and will also mean fewer doctors and nurses willing to work in labor, delivery, and obstetrics. They do it anyway.
Columnist and student of our history Jamelle Bouie

The reality of the “parents’ rights” movement is that it is meant to empower a conservative and reactionary minority of parents to dictate education and curriculums to the rest of the community. It is, in essence, an institutionalization of the heckler’s veto, in which a single parent — or any individual, really — can remove hundreds of books or shut down lessons on the basis of the political discomfort they feel. “Parents’ rights,” in other words, is when some parents have the right to dominate all the others.

Catherine Rampell explains why Americans are so pessimistic about their finances. Sure seems right for tax season.

... Americans are frustrated by rising costs, yes. But they’re also frustrated by how much more attention they must pay to these rising costs — attention that is itself costly. This hidden strain on families is likely to continue for some time, even if some headline economic measures continue to improve. And if those improvements stop, and more people start to lose their income entirely, the current low-grade malaise could curdle into something much worse.

Student of politics Yascha Mounk via Persuasion podcast:

... conspiracy theories are actually deeply revealing of the person who believes in them. My model of the world is that it's a really chaotic place in which there are a bunch of powerful and affluent people, but nobody actually has a tremendous amount of agency, even the President of the United States. Even a billionaire feels very constrained within the various logics of their field of endeavor.
The truth is that nobody's fully in charge. And that's pretty scary. But if you believe in conspiracy theories, actually, what you end up thinking is that there are these thirty evil guys, and they get together at Bilderberg or Davos or whatever and make all the decisions; and if only we could replace them and put good people in charge, instead, then things will be great. There is something that is actually essentially reassuring about the implicit causal model of the world that conspiracists have, and I think that's part of the reason for its appeal.

Columnist for The Washington Post and retired naval officer Theodore Johnson

An uncomfortable question lurks beneath the anxiety about our nation becoming majority-minority. It is rarely asked out loud, and never in mixed company. The bluntness of the inquiry might feed existing divisions rather than lead to better race relations. But it must be asked and answered to satisfaction: Is the American republic for White people only?

 The question will strike the ear harshly. It can’t be helped. For the essence of it — how comfortable are White Americans in a democracy where people of color increasingly hold political power? — is the most important question in the nation today.

... This is subtly, but significantly, different from voter suppression. Angst and anger over particular groups’ increased participation in democracy is giving way to a despair associated with being governed by those groups.


Wednesday, April 05, 2023

To all who celebrate ...

Happy Pesach!

Erudite Partner points out the graphic is incorrect -- it should read "SHE".

Let's enjoy this for a day or so ...


The election of an abortion rights-defending state judge in Wisconsin yesterday marks another step in Democrats reclaiming majority power in the states of the upper Midwest.

Citizens of Wisconsin have proved repeatedly that in statewide elections they will vote for Democrats they find attractive. The state legislature remains rigged by a Republican gerrymander: Dems get over 50 percent of the state vote, but GOPers occupy almost two thirds of the seats thanks to uncompetitive district lines. Next up for Wisconsin: re-electing Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin in 2024.

Michigan did Wisconsin one better: because it was possible put a citizen referendum on redistricting on the ballot and win it, gerrymandered districts were redrawn to be more fair. Democrats not only elected a powerful majority in the state legislature, but also an energetic, all-women, team to statewide offices. In 2024, Michiganders will fill an open U.S. Senate seat -- it's early but the likely Democratic nominee looks to be another woman.

Meanwhile, Dems shored up majority power in Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Illinois over the last two years. 

Might Ohio be next? Looks awfully hard, but pro-choice Ohioans are working to put a reproductive rights referendum on the ballot. It remains to be seen whether they'll be able to navigate a legal minefield laid out by their opponents. Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom need all the help they can get.

Note to the Democratic Party: struggling for abortion rights is a political winner. Get with it!

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

So much more interesting than the crooked Orange Man

Now here's an arrest to applaud!

By way of Jessica Valenti.

Monday, April 03, 2023

Voter suppression update

With the Republican Party choosing to serve as the political vehicle for swindles, mob violence, and cultish devotion to a crook, it's natural to look around for someone -- anyone -- among it's leading figures who looks to be a "normie." Glenn Youngkin passed as such a one long enough to be elected Republican governor of Virginia last year; he seemed not enough of a crackpot to repel voters looking for a change.

But it turns out he joins the rest of his party in pushing back access to voting, undoing the reforms that previous Democratic administrations put in it. Can't let those Black people vote so much ...

Virginia Jim Crow laws dating back to 1902 permanently disenfranchised anyone with a felony conviction. That's a lot of Virginians, most of them Black. The two recent Democratic governors restored voting rights by executive action to over 300,000 felons who had completed their sentences. A state court ruled that the clemency power of the governor required individual consideration before these grants should be effective, so people who had been barred had to fill out a form to get their rights. But the Democrats made it work.

Youngkin's administration has complicated the form -- and now seems to be neglecting to process them. The struggle to restore full citizenship goes on ...

• • •

On the other side of the country, the former swing state of New Mexico, now with a Democratic Governor and legislative majority, is moving in the opposite direction.

New Mexico has become the 26th state, plus D.C., where at least anyone who is not in prison can vote. And new voting reforms include much more: 

[The legislation] contains a flurry of other measures that are meant to strengthen voting rights in the state, including the establishment of Election Day as a state holiday and the expansion of ballot access on Native land. Native people living on reservations in New Mexico did not gain the right to vote until 1948, and HB 4 addresses continued hurdles by requiring language translation at the polls, reducing the distance people on reservations must travel to cast a ballot, and allowing input from tribes on where voting precinct boundaries are set. 

“This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Ahtza Chavez, executive director of NM Native Vote, an organization that advocates for the rights of Native people. “Tribes, Pueblos, and Nation will now have a Native American Voting Rights Act section in the [New Mexico] election code to build upon.” 

The bill would also further automate the state’s registration system. Under the new program, the state would automatically register eligible New Mexicans when they interact with the Motor Vehicle Division, for instance while renewing a license; these new voters would later receive a mailer at home enabling them to opt out if they choose. Currently, people are asked to decide immediately, while they are still at the MVD

Colorado made this same switch in 2019—delaying the stage at which people are asked if they want to opt out—and that resulted in a dramatic jump in the number of registrations.

When I worked on the election in 2004 in New Mexico, under a far too bipartisan consensus, state officials actively worked to prevent Native Americans living on the pueblos from becoming part of the process. Time and organizing can make change ...