Friday, June 30, 2023

Friday cat blogging

Janeway is very interested in the lovely bouquet of gladiolus given to Erudite Partner yesterday. She chewed a stem, but otherwise, so far, has let the flowers to be.

I worry. This seems all too on point:

Thursday, June 29, 2023

They "either do not know our Nation’s history or long to repeat it"

Earlier this week, I predicted that Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson would routinely school the racists in robes beside her on the Supreme Court bench when they seek to impose a "colorblind" history on this country. In her dissent to their decision to kill off affirmative action in higher education, she's at it again.

With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces “colorblindness for all” by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life. And having so detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences, the Court has now been lured into interfering with the crucial work that UNC and other institutions of higher learning are doing to solve America’s real-world problems. No one benefits from ignorance. Although formal race-linked legal barriers are gone, race still matters to the lived experiences of all Americans in innumerable ways, and today’s ruling makes things worse, not better. The best that can be said of the majority’s perspective is that it proceeds (ostrich-like) from the hope that preventing consideration of race will end racism. But if that is its motivation, the majority proceeds in vain. If the colleges of this country are required to ignore a thing that matters, it will not just go away. It will take longer for racism to leave us. And, ultimately, ignoring race just makes it matter more.

UNC [Univeristy of North Carolina] has thus built a review process that more accurately assesses merit than most of the admissions programs that have existed since this country’s founding. Moreover, in so doing, universities like UNC create pathways to upward mobility for long excluded and historically disempowered racial groups. Our Nation’s history more than justifies this course of action. And our present reality indisputably establishes that such programs are still needed—for the general public good—because after centuries of state-sanctioned (and enacted) race discrimination, the aforementioned intergenerational race-based gaps in health, wealth, and well-being stubbornly persist. Rather than leaving well enough alone, today, the majority is having none of it. Turning back the clock (to a time before the legal arguments and evidence establishing the soundness of UNC’s holistic admissions approach existed), the Court indulges those who either do not know our Nation’s history or long to repeat it. Simply put, the race-blind admissions stance the Court mandates from this day forward is unmoored from critical real-life circumstances. Thus, the Court’s meddling not only arrests the noble generational project that America’s universities are attempting, it also launches, in effect, a dismally misinformed sociological experiment.

We know this is true. California outlawed affirmative action programs in the state university system in 1996 -- and Black and Latino students have never recovered the ground they lost.

Black and Hispanic student representation at UC Berkeley both dropped by around 50 percent immediately following the ban. Those students probably attended less selective public universities in the state, the analysis suggests. ...

[Zachary Bleemer, an assistant professor of economics at Yale University], who studied the long-term impacts of California’s ban, has found that Black and Hispanic students who attended less selective universities have poorer outcomes, such as lower graduation rates, graduate school enrollment and income.

“[At more selective schools] they might have been able to build networks that they couldn’t have otherwise had, learned certain kinds of information that were just not available to them in their high school setting,” Bleemer said.

A sad day. But the Court continues to delegitimize itself and our job is to help it along. We can refuse to repeat history.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

San Francisco and its cops

A leisurely perusal of the collection of the San Francisco's Tenderloin Museum (398 Eddy Street at Leavenworth) proved there is nothing new about the city's ambivalent relationship with its police force. Before the area devolved into a residential neighborhood of last resort for new immigrant Asian-origin families and street dwellers, the Tenderloin was where artists, jazz musicians, and gay oddballs found a home. 

And the cops exploited and enjoyed this lawless realm. In the 19th century, the cops profited along with the dance halls.
In the early 20th century, campaigns against gambling houses created opportunities for extortion.
San Francisco was decidedly out of sync with Prohibition, no place more than the Tenderloin. Among these gents sharing the bottles, the county sheriff.
During World War II, the city was the jumping off point and recreational refuge for Pacific sailors. The Tenderloin welcomed both gays and a booming heterosexual porn industry. Our senior US Senator (and former mayor) began her political career crusading to "clean up" the Tenderloin. Local cartoonists, including R Crumb, were not amused. There are those cops on the take again ...
Click on any of these images to enlarge. And if you get a chance, visit this little local gem yourself.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

In which I contribute to the volume of nonsense on the internet

This photo from the Wapo this morning reminded me of one of my minor obsessions: why do some armies make soldiers wear ridiculous oversized hats when formally dressed? 
This seems more common in Asian militaries, though I'm sure there are European-origin examples. 

Here's a fine North Korean specimen:

Someone named Steven Costa opines:

It’s an adaptation of the old Soviet Red Army service cap. It was a joke in the Soviet Red Army too, soldiers referred to it as the “SS hat” as it resembled the Nazi visor caps of World War II. The North Koreans exaggerated this hat further, enlarging the crown to ridiculous heights. ...

Maybe true. Good story for the inquisitive anyway.

Monday, June 26, 2023

The people can take it to the pols

This is likely to be a nasty week framed by upcoming Supreme Court decisions, most likely killing the remnants of affirmative action, affirming that religious bigotry deserves protection from the claims of gay rights in public accommodations, and denying the government's effort to forgive student loans which are made and administered by the government. Not pretty.

With a 6-3 -- mostly wingnut -- Supreme Court majority, we're on track for a lot of Junes when the hits to equality, progress, and freedom keep on coming.

What's particularly difficult about these blows coming from the Court is that we are not used to visualizing what our democratic actions can do now that the right wing project to pack the court has succeeded. 

When the political actors are elected officials, either legislative or executive, we know what to do. Here progressive community organizations in San Francisco pressure the Board and Mayor not to dump the burden of the city's economic woes on neighborhood services.

June 26, 2023
But what to do when the offenders are robed and reserved judicial priests in a marble palace in DC?

We are NOT helpless:

• We can attend to the amazing history lessons in democratic Constitutional interpretation delivered by new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson; she's charting a course for a better judicial direction.

• We can keep calling out the blatant corruption of the worst of them. This palling with wealthy litigants stuff has been a long time practice (gift link) of conservative judges. They need to be shamed.

• We can goose our elected officials to take Court corruption seriously. It's not clear what electeds can do -- but we can make it clear we elect them to figure that out. This sometimes works.

• And though we'll be told direct agitation is useless, it doesn't hurt. I have friends who still have their t-shirts from marches on the Court for civil rights and gay marriage. Folks got arrested; sometimes a useful tactic. The justices will say they've closed their ears, but direct action keeps them listening. A majority of them still think they should be respected and liked. They aren't and won't be so long as the only rights they recognize are those of white Christian billionaires.

Demand Justice seems a good advocacy group making concrete proposals for court reform. 

The Court has already crashed in public esteem since it allowed states to outlaw reproductive health care. It can fall further. This matters.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

She's serious; we all need to be

On this Gay Pride Day, Erudite Partner asks:

Are Queer People the New Jews?

... there’s a new extermination campaign stalking this country that would definitely include me among its targets: the right-wing Republican crusade against “sexual predators” and “groomers,” by which they mean LGBTQI+ people. (I’m going to keep things simple here by just writing “LGBT” or “queer” to indicate this varied collection of Americans who are presently a prime target of the right wing in this country.) 

You may think “extermination campaign” is an extreme way to describe the set of public pronouncements, laws, and regulations addressing the existence of queer people here. Sadly, I disagree. Ambitious would-be Republican presidential candidates across the country, from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to the less-known governor of North Dakota, Doug Burgum, are using anti-queer legislation to bolster their primary campaigns. For Florida, it started in July 2022 with DeSantis’s Parental Rights in Education act (better known as his “Don’t Say Gay” law) ...

... But the attacks against queer people go well beyond banning any discussion of gayness in public schools. We’re also witnessing a national campaign against trans and non-binary people that, in effect, aims to eliminate such human beings altogether, whether by denying their very existence or denying them the medical care they need. This campaign began with a focus on trans youth but has since widened to include trans and non-binary people of all ages.

... We’re not paranoid. They really do want us to disappear.

She provides an exhaustive catalogue of the MAGA assault on our kind. And she explores how rightwing evangelicals have been exporting their hate campaign to Africa and beyond. We call out fascism because we must.

Go read it all.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Wars past and present

Tom Nichols made an observation on Twitter that I found thought provoking:

... Biden‘s approval never recovers after the pullout from Afghanistan. Bush, Obama and Trump didn’t pull out of Afghanistan because everyone knew that the American people were going to punish whoever did what they were demanding be done.

Click to enlarge
I think that's right. I speak from the somewhat rare perspective of having been certain before the US invaded Afghanistan that this was going to be a clusterfuck. There was a response to 9/11 that need not have been so disastrous; we could have gone in, grabbed (or more likely just killed) the intellectual authors and enablers of that attack -- and left it to Afghans sort themselves out. There was no reason to think the results would have been pretty for Afghan women or Afghan civil society such as it existed, but nothing was gained and much lost by our long occupation.

Biden did the right thing by finally cutting our losses. The withdrawal could, and should, have been handled better, ensuring protection to the many Afghans who had bought into our project so much more deeply than we ever did. But getting out was right. And it is worth appreciating that Biden dared to walk into an anticipated minefield.

• • •

On the topic of wars ... I want to recommend Joe Cirincione's takedown of RFK Jr. who seems to be stooging for Russia, Steve Bannon, and Tucker Carlson on the margins of the Democratic Party (GOPers love the guy). Cirincione has terrific qualifications to speak on war and justice, having toiled for nuclear disarmament for years as the head of Ploughshares Fund. He remains an anti-imperialist:

Kennedy denies the agency of smaller nations. He and others assume a Great Power logic, that only the big nations matter. Rep. Jamie Raskin calls this the “colonialist reflex.” ...

 ... Kennedy is repeating an integral part of Putin’s effort to discredit Ukraine’s government as illegitimate and to erase the idea of an independent Ukrainian nation. For Putin (and Kennedy), the only way Ukraine could have a government that he did not support is if it was “hand-picked” by the United States - or in this case, by a single assistant secretary of state.

Nor was the new government “unelected.” It was elected by the Ukrainian parliament and then changed leadership peacefully and democratically in numerous popular elections since.

This war is about Ukraine, not us. Read it all. 

Friday, June 23, 2023

Friday cat blogging

Janeway knows what a lap is for: bathing. Gotta clean that tail.

Once cleaned, she sits back contentedly.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

On the anniversary of the Dobbs decision

When access to abortion is put to the voters, reproductive freedom wins. Kansas (by referendum) ... Wisconsin (in a statewide judicial election) ... in ballot measures in the 2022 midterms (California, Michigan, Vermont, Kentucky and Montana). 
We don't want a bunch of old white men and other crackpots telling us what we can do with our bodies.
In Ohio, Arizona, and Florida, efforts are underway to put the right to choose to a vote. 

Supporters of reproductive freedom are a growing the majority. As is true in so many contexts, when "We Vote, We Win!"

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

We can't have fairness without some affirmative interventions

The notion that using awareness of the injuries inflicted by the American system of racial caste to work to remedy those injuries itself constitutes a form of bigotry is simply nonsense. Evil nonsense, which defies common sense -- and will likely be endorsed this month by our rightwing Supreme Court.

The arguments about affirmative action measures in college admissions are frayed and tired. To the credit of the New York Times, they have published an article [gifted at the link] focused not so much on the policy equity conundrums, but on how affirmative action makes people who have benefited feel.

... A few concluded that the downsides of race-conscious admissions outweighed the benefits. Some spoke of carrying an extra layer of impostor syndrome. Many more grieved the closing of a path that led to rewarding careers and the building of wealth.
Their experience may inform the present, as Americans continue to debate how to define — and align — the principles of fairness and merit, as well as address enduring racial disparities without deepening racial divisions. At least in the immediate future, Black and Hispanic enrollment is expected to plunge.
Mr. [Granderson] Hale, 71, can sympathize with those that want the end of race-conscious admissions. He credits Wesleyan with paving the way to an M.B.A. from the Wharton School and a more comfortable life. But he would prefer to see investments in early education for Black and Hispanic students, who often attend low-performing K-12 schools.
He said he had seen enough of how Black professionals were regarded by their white counterparts to feel that race-conscious admissions had not worked to their overall benefit. “People don’t respect you if they have to let you in,” he said.
That view is not widely shared by Black adults with a bachelor’s degree, who supported the consideration of race and ethnicity in admissions by more than a 2-to-1 margin in a recent poll by the Pew Research Center.
Andrew Brennen, 27, is entering Columbia Law School this fall, perhaps the last class shaped by race-conscious admissions. He has no doubt that given his test scores and grades, being Black played a role in his admission — for which he is unapologetic. Like Mr. Hale, he sees K-12 education as a key to racial justice, and has accepted a scholarship from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund that commits him to eight years of practicing civil rights law in the South after graduation.
... Mr. Brennen’s family was upper-middle class; his father was a dean at the University of Kentucky law school. But he also grew up in small southern towns, his the only Black family in predominantly white neighborhoods.
As a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he watched protesters fight to keep a Confederate monument on campus and felt guilt, as one of two Black students in a freshman writing class, for “not adequately defending my race” when the topic of affirmative action arose.
Any self-doubt he and others like him feel on elite campuses, he said, stems from a sense of isolation, lack of institutional support and routine displays of racism, not “because our SAT scores aren’t as high as our white peers.’’

Read it all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Casting out demons

The Mission's own Xiuhcoatl Danza Azteca led a unity rally at 24th Street and Mission on Tuesday evening ...

... calling on Pachamama to heal the violence that has risen up the 'hood with a mass shooting just down the street and in nearby Precita Park.

These folks are tireless ...
... even when tired. Who here in these streets is not tired of the violence and neglect and sometimes squalor in our beloved Mission after horrors of the pandemic?
We're in this together.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Pernicious priests

San Francisco's Roman Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone is a major character in Mary Jo McConahay's Playing God: American Catholic Bishops and The Far Right. Her considerable discussion of this monarchical figure does not mention what many of us in this city know him best for: setting his cathedral's timing on its sprinkler system to deluge homeless people seeking cover under its eaves. (Yes, on public exposure, the cathedral had to decency to turn off the the spigots.) Across the Bay in Oakland, Bishop Michael Barber is also a major character. He's best known at present for seeking to declare his diocese bankrupt in order to evade responsibility for 330 pending child sexual abuse claims against former priests.

This sort of clerical cruelty drives some faithful Catholics from their church and leaves the remainder keeping their heads down while quietly participating in the rites and good works that fly under the ecclesial radar. Bless 'em.

McConahay records how right wing operatives built the infrastructure -- political and organizational -- to take advantage of clerical backlash against the modernizing thrust of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) which aimed to bring Catholicism into the modern world. A couple of backward looking popes -- John Paul II and Benedict XVI -- appointed most of the current American bishops; the resulting American hierarchy is an outlier in the Catholic world, hidebound, uncharitable, and unable to come to terms with the lives of the faithful. These clerical princes loath Pope Francis; they cannot abide or survive openness to the world as it is. In particular, in this country, they are enemies of democracy and the separation of church and state, assured that they represent all morality and truth. As the wise Sister Joan Chichester laments: "Nothing really changed after Vatican II. ..."

This book is professional investigative journalism that seeks out connections that many of its actors would prefer to keep under cover. McConahay has explored the nooks and byways of Roman Catholic reaction, following the money from Catholic billionaires into a plethora of institutions, including of course the Supreme Court. She has earned a blurb from that essential secular expert on following the right wing money, New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer.

McConahay explains how she relates to her painfilled project:
I have no animus toward the Catholic Church or its bishops. As a lifelong Catholic, including years reporting from Latin America, I have seen the extent to which my coreligionists, including bishops, have gone, even to the point of martyrdom, on behalf of other people and of justice. At the same time, I have always believed that the institution of the Church was worth investigation and critique.
Like other Americans, I was shaken by the events of January 6, 2021. I saw those hours through the eyes and ears of a reporter who has covered war, religion, and politics, both at home and in autocracies abroad. Now, in my own nation's capital, I watched in horror and disbelief at one man's exhortation to loyalists to rise up and march with him to upturn the law. I saw crosses and Bibles side by side with Confederate flags ... [I saw] how the extremists among my coreligionists exuded a sense of embattled Christianity, expressed in comparisons of supposedly repressed U.S. believers with Jews killed by Hitler.
As a reporter, indeed as a Catholic, I felt it was time to look at the U.S. Church as a key instrument playing an outsize role in the current, dangerous political moment.
If you can stomach delving into the moral sewer which is much of the U.S. Roman Catholic episcopate, McConahay offers the goods -- and that's not even dwelling on their misogyny and sexual abuse. Jesus, save us from your priests.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Father's Day

My mother's note on the back of this one says "July 1948." I love this picture of him trying to figure out how to engage with this very active one-year-old interloper in his household. He never quite knew what to do with a child, but I never doubted for a moment that he loved me.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Bunker Hill revisited

Two hundred forty seven years ago today, an amateur Massachusetts militia fought the British standing army on the heights overlooking Boston in what is known as the Battle of Bunker Hill (though actually it was fought on adjacent Breeds Hill.) Though the imperial professionals took the high points after three bloody assaults, the American revolutionaries proved they could withstand a frontal attack in this first engagement of their long war (1775-1783).

The battle was a tactical victory for the British, but it proved to be a sobering experience for them; they incurred many more casualties than the Americans had sustained, including many officers. The battle had demonstrated that inexperienced militia were able to stand up to regular army troops in battle. Subsequently, the battle discouraged the British from any further frontal attacks against well defended front lines.

One of my great grandfathers who made good and then better in 19th century Buffalo, NY, was mightily proud of his relatives' role in that battle and war. E.G. Spaulding had served as town mayor and as a Republican Congressman during the Civil War, sponsoring the desperate Union wartime innovation of federal paper money. (Republicans used to be useful people in a pinch.) 

At the centenary of the battle in 1875, he built this hideous memorial in the local high society cemetery. 

The monument is indeed monumental, proclaiming American progress weightily by references to then-trendy Greek classical motifs. The neoclassical pseudo-temple seems merely incongruous today; the Phrygian cap adorned with stars atop a Grecian urn is a symbol which has completely lost its resonance over the last 100 years. But in the 19th century it carried a strong message about a kind of freedom. 
In late Republican Rome, a soft felt cap called the pileus served as a symbol of freemen (i.e. non-slaves), and was symbolically given to slaves upon manumission, thereby granting them not only their personal liberty, but also libertas – freedom as citizens, with the right to vote (if male). Following the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC, Brutus and his co-conspirators instrumentalized this symbolism of the pileus to signify the end of Caesar's dictatorship and a return to the (Roman) republican system.

These Roman associations of the pileus with liberty and republicanism were carried forward to the 18th century, until when the pileus was confused with the Phrygian cap, then becoming a symbol of those values.

My ancestors were decidedly not "woke." But old E.G. thought this country that his people had fought to create meant something grander than his considerable personal prosperity. 

And in their own time, 19th century rich men had taste as ostentatiously horrible as our current bathroom billionaire.

Study time

I spent an hour last night doing what many commentators urge: I read the Trump indictment, all 44 pages. It's readily available online. 

The pundits are accurate. It's easy to read and informative. I learned the taxonomy of the varieties of classified information: SECRET, TOP SECRET, CONFIDENTIAL and their mutant cousins. SCI, NOFORN, etc. There were all kinds in Trump's stash. Making some of them available to hostile people might actually endanger real humans and perhaps "national security."

Trump didn't care. They were his precious baubles, the token of power lost. The picture of the rhythm of his days at "The Mar-a-Lago Club" is vivid, Mr. Trump ordering his servants to come and go, in particular the unfortunate Mr. Nauta who repeatedly dragged the boxes about. It was all just the normal business of a sometimes irrational, cranky boss. 

Nauta should flip to the side of the prosecution, as all the other servant informants did. The oddity at this point is that he hasn't.

Trump apparently lied to his own lawyers -- but it's hard to believe they credited his word along with his promises to pay. (Did he pay? He doesn't usually.)

Twitter is having fun with the boxes in the bathroom:

@RCdeWinter offers a decorator's critque:

"When considering what kind of boxes to put in your bathroom for holding classified documents I recommend going with neutrals, off whites, creams etc. Using a multitude of sizes and staggering the boxes gives depth. Try to stack most of the boxes on one wall, keeping only your most current reading materials near the toilet. Adding a candle to top of your current reading box adds a nice touch."

Trump has never been known for good taste.

Image of Putin and MBS doing their homework via @JohnWDean

Friday, June 16, 2023

Against the assasins of freedom

Emanations from Trump world have launched the estimable Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on a verbal tear. He exudes righteous denunciations. From his Substack

On the subset of the Trump base calling for violence in defense of their Leader:

As for the call to arms to restore Trump to power (because they know he’s incapable of securing the popular vote): This isn’t about defending Trump because they actually believe he’s innocent (there are too many crimes and too much proof, even for them), it’s that they need to proclaim him as innocent to defend themselves as people with a valuable opinion. If Trump is found guilty of crimes—like in the many sexual assault cases or the election tampering case, or in endangering American security in the stolen documents case—then they look like fools. They can either admit they were wrong—which would call into question their intelligence and judgment—or they can double down and threaten violence, which they don’t realize confirms their poor judgment. Either way, they look like fools, but in the latter, they have this romanticized image of themselves as rebel freedom fighters. Instead of what they are—freedom assassins.
On Republican politicians striking militia poses:

I’m not sure when GOP hardliners became that belligerent bozo in Westerns who whips up the drunks in a saloon to kill the sheriff and lynch the accused. I’m not sure when, but I am sure that’s who they are now.

On defeated GOP Arizona governor candidate Kari Lake:

[Her] statement is something crafted by someone not on speaking terms with the English language, sixth-grade math, or critical thinking. ... Maybe Lake is angling to be Trump’s running mate. Hopefully, the position won’t require math. It certainly doesn’t require logic. Or truth. Or ethics.

Abdul-Jabbar's musings are always worth a look. He doesn't hold back.

Friday cat blogging

We live with a killer. Janeway is ready to pounce. ... on just what I don't know. Please, don't let it be my ankle ... she draws blood all too often. 

And then plops down to nap.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

The Big Lie meets the Big Truth

Could we possibly need another book about the nation's Trumpian travails and the election of 2020? It seemed unlikely. But Major Garrett, a senior journalist, and David Becker, an elections administrator and scholar, have written an extremely granular account from a slightly off-center perspective that I fully recommend. The Big Truth: Upholding Democracy in the Age of “The Big Lie” recounts the practices, work, and trials of the people who work in administering free and fair elections.

This is the story of the enduring distrust in our election system sown by Trump and exacerbated by our different information systems. A telling anecdote:

Ricky Hatch lives in Weber County, Utah and has been a Republican election official there since 2012. ...
"It happens all the time, the emails and the phone calls, people telling me we have to go back to voting in person, having ID at the polls," Hatch told us. "They tell me we have to get rid of this voting by mail crap, that voting by mail is not secure, that it is fraught with fraud and Democrats use it to take over the world."
Hatch offers tours of the county's vote counting machinery, walks the curious through the process of checking and double-checking results. ...
Hatch has noticed a pattern among those he is able to persuade the Weber County's systems are verifiable and secure. Voters will say they now believe in the county's methods, but not in the election results and the officials who produced them in Arizona, Michigan, Georgia, Wisconsin, or other states contested in 2020. 
"They say, 'I trust you." And I tell them there are 9000 other mes, people like me, around the country and they care as much as I do and they are just as competent as I am."
Hatch has commiserated with Republican election officials around the country ... "I hate saying this, but [Trump] has the same characteristics as a cult leader. He pulls people into a belief system. I thought it would die down. It's getting stronger. People are more skeptical now than were a year ago."
And Hatch lives and works in Utah where nobody is claiming the 2020 election or any election was "rigged" against Republicans!

The book does a good job of walking the reader through how US elections came to be run through the processes we currently use, how opportunities for fraud had in fact been wrung out out the system over the last couple a decades, and introducing the people who do what has long been largely thankless work.

These authors also communicate something about the information environment of 2020 which made the pervasive Republican belief in Trump's Big Lie more persuasive to its adherents.

I did not understand until reading this book the extent to which white people in the rightwing information bubble -- Fox News, their uncle on Facebook, etc. -- honestly came to assume that the protests over the murder of George Floyd were a personally threatening, murderous anarchy that might engulf their homes. I saw righteous protests against enduring white supremacy; they saw something else.
We are all too familiar with Republican whataboutism surrounding the violence and looting during the nationwide protests ... Initially some protests were violent and accompanied by looting and property damage. At least nineteen people died. Damages exceeded $1 billion. For a time, neighborhoods in Seattle and Portland were, due to unrest, impassable or closed off. Other cities saw blocks of boarded up streets. Even so, with protests in more than 2000 American cities, a report by the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location Event Data Project found that 93 percent were peaceful and non-destructive. ...
That's what I saw -- something wonderful if long overdue.

But that's not what Trump's base saw. And we're still living in the backwash of their terror at the rising of the Black and Brown, accompanied by some of their own children.

Garrett and Becker offer honest descriptions of the amazing accomplishments that are the United States' decentralized elections. They admit flaws; they plead against restrictions which might reduce the ability of election officials to smooth the process.
Elections are rife with technicalities and small errors or omissions. Humans are imperfect and elections multiply imperfections -- in using enough ink to fill in a space on a ballot, jotting your signature hurriedly so it many not match precisely with another for verification purposes, misspelling something on a ballot application, miscopying an address on an election form. Election officials and workers have long ironed out such mistakes by helping voters correct innocent mistakes or making sure they can properly submit a provisional ballot ... However, unforgiving application of rules, especially new and restrictive ones, could silence thousands of voters. ...
What's their prescription?
Don't blame elections. Win them. That is our message to all who read this book ...
That certainly accords with the prescription I've organized my work around. Contrary to my priors, this is a good and useful elections book.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Somber Pride

Memorial at 18th and Castro, San Francisco
There have been many seasons when Gay Pride celebrations have been a grand, heavily commercial, happy civic party. A tourist attraction. A blast. And there will be plenty of that this year. 

But once again, we're reminded that there are fellow citizens who would like to erase us. They can't. We won't let them and neither will our allies. But they can do terrible harm in their madness to both individuals and communities. 

The June gloom of this Northern California season feels appropriate to this moment.

Monday, June 12, 2023

How to behave when meeting someone from a war zone

Mostly, Americans don't have live with war. (Yes, much of the world thinks our gun fetishism makes this a war zone, but, by and large, that enemy is homegrown, unpredictable, and not as common as media makes it seem.) 

Our recent wars have been far away. One of the laments of U.S. veterans who had to take part in our imperial adventures has been that people on the home front don't know how to talk with them. It was the echo of that pain which drew me to Tymofiy Mylovanov's Twitter thread.

Mylovanov is president of the Kyiv School of Economics; an adviser to the Zelensky administration; was minister of economy, Ukraine, 2019-2020; and an associate professor, University of Pittsburgh. He's currently in Norway, presumably for some good reason of the Ukrainian state. He has some suggestions for how to talk with a visiting Ukrainian which might have broader application -- and might not be right for everyone. Here are a few:

1. Be genuine. Do say that you support Ukraine, feel terrible about the lives lost, and that Ukrainians are going through this.

It is okay to talk war, it is good for us to feel support. Let’s be human!

Don’t show fake support if you don’t feel this way. That’s ok too.

2. Don’t do small talk. I don’t really enjoy it. People ask about when I arrived, if my flight was okay, how much did I sleep.

To me these questions seem irrelevant. As I am typing this tweet, I got a message [from Kyiv] that an air alert is over. 

The war never leaves me, even if I am far away. That’s why small nice talk feels out of place for me.

3. Don’t say “we hope you can forget about the war and relax, get your mind off the war”. For me it can actually be insulting depending on how it is said. 
People are dying in my country and I am here and should be “trying to forget about the war”? No, in fact the sense of urgency, the desire to do everything I can to bring the victory forward becomes more acute here. 

So, don’t try to bring normalcy in my life. It won’t happen. 

4. Instead, do engage with me in any projects and ideas that can help Ukraine win the war, help save more Ukrainian lives, or build a better future. 

5. Don’t tell me that “I am angry”, “I need to take it easy”, “I am traumatized”, or “I shouldn’t work that hard because I will burn out”.

I am all of those things - angry, traumatized, but crazy motivated and efficient - at once. And it is normal to be like that in war. 

I come here to work on getting the victory faster be it fundraising, communication, economic funding, recovery, EU enlargement or whatever else

6. Minimize my interaction with logistics. My mind is elsewhere, I can miss connections, forget to book a taxi, or pay something. ...

There's much more.

Testing site

If you live in San Francisco, cars like this -- note there is no human driver -- are a common sight alongside when driving in traffic.

They seem to be everywhere, mostly moving along uneventfully. They are currently operating with a limited mandate to carry a population that seems to have volunteered for the service, human beta testers for the future. Apparently Cruise and Waymo are not charging yet for this taxi service -- but the developers hope to be fully licensed by the state Public Utilities Commission at a meeting on June 29.

The city of San Francisco is dubious. 

The number of reported traffic incidents involving self-driving taxis has surged this year in San Francisco, according to city officials seeking to block the state from giving a green light to such vehicles around the clock.

... San Francisco has served in a sense as a test lab for the new technology, but until now there have been tight constraints on the hours that robotaxis can be deployed as well as the neighborhoods where they are allowed. By contrast, Cruise wants to introduce a fleet of 100 vehicles that would operate around the city and around the clock — including downtown during commute hours. Waymo’s expansion would be similar.

The automated cars keep running into the unexpected on the streets. For example, a friend who lives next to where a Mission shooting incident happened last week, says one of these cars drove right through the middle of the the chaotic scene. They aren't yet fully programmed for human crime.

I don't know what I think. I'm very cautious crossing the street on foot when I realize one of these is in the intersection. But if perfected, they'll be more reliable drivers than we are.

It's interesting to know we're a science experiment.

• • •

Though I seem to be negative for COVID, I have not regained energy, so blogging may be light for a bit. That's okay: Donald Trump can get perp-walked without my commentary.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Do we know what to do about people who scare and harm?

Bill Keller was the executive editor of the New York Times from July 2003 until September 2011. For those of us who thought the GW Bush administration's Iraq invasion was an immoral disaster, Keller, an establishment war hawk with the power to define the public narrative, was a major public enemy.  It didn't seem to bode well when Keller landed in 2014 at The Marshall Project:

The Marshall Project is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. We have an impact on the system through journalism, rendering it more fair, effective, transparent and humane.
That's a bit boosterish. But Marshall Project journalism does a good job of professionally raising up what America does in the prisons to a wide public. Their output gets read, which is saying something in an arena we usually would prefer not to gaze at.

Keller has shared what he learned in five years getting that project off the ground in a slim book, What's Prison For? Punishment and Rehabilitation in the Age of Mass Incarceration.
He's candid about his learning curve on the job.
My crash course in criminal justice taught me that this country imprisons people more copiously than almost any other place on earth. Some countries, including China and North Korea, do not fully disclose their prison populations, so America may not actually hold the dubious distinction of first place. But there is ample justification for calling what we do in America "mass incarceration." ...
This perfectly captures the tone of this book -- measured, careful, accurate to a fault, designed to lower the temperature about a topic that arouses passions.

As if writing a longform magazine article, Keller explores through close observation and gentle on-scene interviews the fraught realities of sentencing, race, drugs in prisons, violence -- and life after release, prison education, and what incarceration does to the jailers. He makes a diligent effort to study and apply what academic study of prisons has suggested. He describes Nordic systems of corrections, which center helping offenders learn to live normal civilian lives though practice while still inside. And he raises up US experiments on the same lines. There's even a short chapter on women's experiences in the system.

Maybe what conversation about the US prison system most needs is less yelling, more deliberate humanity. This is a useful little book if that's a right prescription for readers not struggling in the immediate horror. If, for good and tangible reasons, the prison system presents as a screaming injustice that destroys people, families and communities -- as it does to too many Americans -- Keller will seem bland, too comfortable, and too complacent.

What I'm sure Keller would agree on is that ending mass incarceration is going to require all of us. Keller's take is at least smart and kind. That's not nothing. This is a useful little introductory book.

• • •

It feels apprriate that I'm writing up What's Prison For? the week that Donald J Trump received his federal felony indictments. Can the United States actually put away the old con man? The best discussion I've encountered of this came in a podcast discussion between former US Attorney Joyce Vance and former Republican operative Steve Schmidt. He asked the question that lurks for all of us: if Trump is convicted, "is he going to prison?" Vance said "no" with a clear explanation that I haven't met elsewhere. Whatever happens, by statute, Donald Trump will be accompanied by his Secret Service detail for the rest of his life -- it's just not happening that the system will lock up the whole entourage.  We'll have to see how it all plays out ...

Just what I wanted to see ...

No extra line. No problem.

I've gotten off easy. Will mask among people for another week, but barring rebound, we're done in this household.

Friday, June 09, 2023

Friday cat blogging

I think it is possible that Janeway enjoys having her humans locked down with Covid. They stay home. They lie around. Sometimes they'll play, but they are also glad to have a cat napping beside them.
Beauty sleep is so important to a cat.

Thursday, June 08, 2023

From the pest house ...

First off, I should say that Covid is not being very miserable. Some fevers, a little woozy, but mostly necessary isolation even from the EP who has advanced to a negative test. I yearn to follow.

Click to enlarge.
After some mild bureaucratic obstacle jumping, my Kaiser doctors prescribed paxlovid -- and I just want to share that the drug's packaging is a revelation. Pictured above.

Why don't most drugs come with packaging which embodies the instructions as this does? You just do what it says ... it is even color coded.

I raise that because, right before I caught the Covid, I'd been taking a week long course of an antibiotic as a preventive precaution when having a tooth extracted. You know -- I was prescribed a neat little bottle of 21 pills to be ingested three times a day. And within a couple of days, pre-Covid, I found myself confused: had I really taken the morning dose? Or the midday one? I just did the best I could.

I know that there are specialized pill boxes for this sort of thing. Or I could have created a card to check off the doses as I took them. But wouldn't it be better if the packaging the drug comes in did the trick, easing compliance? 

In particular, Medicare should require drug companies to package all drugs we old timers might take in this instructive way. Just a thought.

Monday, June 05, 2023

Time for a break

I guess it had to happen. Three and one half years in, the virus has established residence in me.

For the moment, I don't feel badly. Just tired. So I isolate so as not to pass it on. And nap.

The Erudite Partner is also down with this, evidently a stowaway from Morocco. 

Regular blogging will return when energy returns.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Public libraries might be civilization's best idea

Here's a fine way to celebrate LGBTQ+ existence. A librarian shares:

I think often about the teenager who, years ago, asked me if we had any LGBTQ+ self help books at the library. We did.

I walked with them to show them where. Once in the stacks, I told them there was no limit to the number of books you could check out.

They said they didn’t have a card and they didn’t want to sign up for one cause they didn’t want their mom to find out what they were reading. I’d like to think the reason for that is simply because this teenager just wasn’t ready to have that convo with a parent…

I told them they didn’t need to check out books, that they could find a comfy spot to sit and read as much and as long as they’d like.

As I walked away, I turned and said, “for what it’s worth, we don’t have security sensors here.”

I think *so* often about that teenager and about all the folks who have felt safe enough to be vulnerable at the library. I hope the books helped them.

My mother would have liked this. Except perhaps the veiled encouragement to the kid to abscond with a book. She was a children's librarian who believed fiercely that young people should be encouraged to read anything that would hold their interest and good would come of it. When I was nine, she marched me into the local branch public library, got me a card, and told the staff I could take out anything I wanted. Many of my choices were gruesome accounts of wars past.

There simply weren't any books that would help me come to terms with being a lesbian. Now there are.

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Let's not take up the next war ...

While the many of us were looking elsewhere, Republicans have normalized the idea of the U.S. bombing Mexico. No, really. Trump claims he'll do it if elected in 2024.

Mexico City: independencia and global commerce
It is true that the fentanyl deaths all around us in the United States are the consequence of a kind of quadrilateral trade whose end product is murder. The precursor chemicals to the drug enter Mexico from China. Inside our southern neighbor, the drug cartels manufacture the addictive poison and from there ship it to our abundant population of American users. With the proceeds, the cartels arm themselves with military quality guns which travel in the reverse direction. In Mexico, the cartels subvert and battle the government for unfettered power; 30,000 Mexicans are killed in Mexico annually by the drug cartel conflict.

Adam Tooze lays out the frightening contours in a long Substack post, "So far from god" ... friend-shoring and the debate in Washington over whether to bomb Mexico". This begins with a concise survey of Mexico's fraught history with its imperial neighbor (that's us), looks at Mexico's current relationships with Latin America and China -- and then takes up the crisis looming over the drug trade. His conclusions are terrifying and should be demanding of those of us who don't want to compound the drug war with an international atrocity.

The problem for those favoring restraint is that the situation is truly disastrous, they have no good alternatives to offer and America’s planetary conception of its own security provides no official with any wiggle-room. It is their duty to protect Americans everywhere from every threat and to use the tools at their disposal to do so.
So in March 2021, Head of U.S. Northern Command General Glen VanHerck stated that 30%-35% of Mexico constitutes an “ungoverned space”, which as he warns opens the door to cartels and their foreign friends. That then raises the question of how any American President could stand by and allow a lethal threat to America to develop on its border without acting. As the explosive memo to a putative President Trump highlighted by Rolling Stone, remarks: “It is vital that Mexico not be led to believe that they have veto power to prevent the US from taking the actions necessary to secure its borders and people.”
... At one level this is an outrageous carte blanche for an infringement of Mexican sovereignty and a forever war on drugs. At another level it is merely the assertion of the basic principle of self-defense in the face of an unregulated transnational threat on America’s borders. America’s sovereignty and the paramountcy of its own interests means that Mexico can have no veto. To concede anything less is tantamount to treason. ...

Tooze is not arguing for a new (renewed?) Mexican War. But he has made the threat implicit in the current situation real. Those of us who find military action against Mexico unthinkable and absurd should take notice. This is not just habitual Republican posturing, bellicosity, and racism. 

As in so many arenas, the Biden administration is struggling to manage the complicated, ugly, multilayered challenges which confront a country learning to live as one fish (a big one) among many. If we care about peace and justice, Tooze has convinced me that this is a vital direction in which to be paying attention.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Friday cat blogging

We bought Janeway a window hammock. (You can get anything for cats these days.) She tried it out and apparently approved, but has not yet put it into her regular rotation which is heavily weighted toward yearning to chase birds or an occasional squirrel in the front yard.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Cognitive dissonance

Driving on the freeway yesterday, I mused that hardly any of the vehicles whipping by looked much like Wowser, our very lime green 2011 Ford Escape. They seemed to all be various sorts of shiny aerodynamic semi-SUVs, Teslas (this is NorCal, after all), and undifferentiated white, gray, and black pill boxes. Wowser, which runs just fine, must be getting old.

Apparently not so; she's just average. Via Matt Yglesias, I discover that S&P Global Mobility calculates that the average car in the US is 12.2 years old!

This is the fifth straight year the average vehicle age in the US has risen. This year's average age marks another all-time high for the average age even as the vehicle fleet recovered, growing by 3.5 million units in the past year. ...

... The global microchip shortage, combined with associated supply chain and inventory challenges, are the primary factors pushing US average vehicle age higher, according to the analysis.... The ongoing effect of supply chain constraints has led to a decrease in vehicle scrappage, which measures the number of vehicles leaving the vehicle population and has been a catalyst for the rise in average age over time.

 ... Additionally, the pandemic drove consumers from public transport and shared mobility to personal mobility and since vehicle owners couldn't upgrade their existing vehicles due to bottlenecks in the supply of new vehicles, the demand for used cars accelerated - boosting vehicle average age further.

Where are all those other aging cars? I sure don't see them. We'll being keeping Wowser for the foreseeable future. I suspect we're different around here.

• • •

Something similar goes for the city of San Francisco these days. With downtown emptied out by the shift to remote work and tech downsizing, there's more than a bit of a pall over the city. The current configuration was built for different uses and the residue of the last boom is no longer serving us ... including the political leadership as well as the built environment. 

So we have people living on the streets, as well as bad drugs most everywhere. And seem unable to envision a better day. 

It's worth recalling, we've been here before. I am not at all convinced that this is not just another one of San Francisco's boom/bust cycles. A dramatic one. A deep one. But this place revives. 

Owen Thomas puts it well in another improbable city survivor, the San Francisco Examiner

The million-dollar views from The City’s hillside open spaces are free. And what they offer is perspective: This is a place worth fighting for — and fighting about. We don’t have to come to some complete concurrence about San Francisco’s future to agree that it has one.